The case from the first season of the hit podcast Serial will be adding another chapter to the story. Although Adnan Syed was arrested for the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee and later sentenced to life in prison, a Baltimore judge vacated his convictions today, granting him a new trial.
Syed’s current attorney, C. Justin Brown, shared the news in an enthusiastic tweet after Judge Martin P. Welch handed down the decision, writing, “WE WON A NEW TRIAL FOR ADNAN SYED!!! #FreeAdnan.” The official Serial Twitter account also provided an update, sharing a document with a summary of the outcome.
The tweet gave the highlights:
— Serial (@serial) June 30, 2016
Court documents obtained by the Baltimore Sun, however, offered more specifics, including Judge Martin’s reasoning, which was that Syed’s previous attorney had failed to handle his case properly in relation to an important piece of testimony.
“The court finds that trial counsel’s performance fell below the standard of reasonable professional judgment when she failed to cross-examine the state’s cell tower expert regarding a disclaimer obtained as part of pre-trial discover,” wrote the judge.
The development in the case came months after Syed’s attorneys argued in a February post-conviction hearing that his original trial lawyer had wrongly overlooked both a key alibi witness and questionable cell phone records. Serial picked back up with Syed’s case at the time to update listeners on the hearing. Needless to say, the judge was well conscious of the unusual public awareness, and he even clarified that he has not listened to the popular show.
“This case represents a unique juncture between the criminal justice system and a phenomenally strong public interest caused by modern media,” Welch wrote. “Regardless of the public interest surrounding this case, the court used its best efforts to address the merits of [Syed’s] petition for post-conviction relief like it would in any other case that comes before the court, unfettered by sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion.”
That the judge felt the need to comment on the issue is an indication of how much influence entertainment can wield over public opinion. Serial season 1, which has been downloaded millions of times, highlighted inconsistencies in the case, captivating its audience and inspiring outcry from those who believed Syed was innocent. You can bet millions will continue to follow his case moving forward.
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