Attorneys for ‘Serial’ subject want prosecutors to drop appeal and try case again
BALTIMORE — Attorneys for Adnan Syed have a simple response to prosecutors’ efforts to block his new trial: If the case against the “Serial” podcast subject is strong, try it again.
“Give Syed a fair trial and let a jury decide,” lead attorney C. Justin Brown said Thursday. “My client has spent more than 17 years in prison based on an unconstitutional conviction for a crime he did not commit. The last thing this case needs right now is more delay.”
A Baltimore judge earlier this year vacated Syed’s murder conviction in the 1999 death of his Woodlawn High School classmate and ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee and ordered a new trial.
Prosecutors say Syed was convicted on “overwhelming” evidence. They are pursuing an appeal of the ruling.
Syed was serving a life sentence. Serial and its spinoffs probed questions about the case, and Syed was given the opportunity to convince Judge Martin Welch that his original defense attorney was wrong to not call an alibi witness to testify at his 2000 trial.
That witness testified at a hearing in February, and Syed’s defense team also raised questions about cellphone records used to tie Syed to the area where Lee’s body was found.
Welch ruled in July that it was in the interest of justice that Syed receive a new trial. He said the decision was based on the questions over cell phone records.
Since that ruling, prosecutors have argued in court filings that Welch should not have allowed Syed’s attorneys to present arguments over the cellphone records at the February hearing.
In a response filed Thursday, Syed’s attorneys rejected the claim.
“The state must put forward a strong contention that the experienced Circuit Court judge assigned to this case on remand abused his discretion in reopening Syed’s postconviction proceedings,” they wrote. “The Circuit Court did no such thing.”
Syed remains jailed and charged with murder pending the outcome of the appeal, which his attorneys said could take years to resolve. Brown has enlisted an additional team of defense attorneys, who helped put together the response filed Thursday.
At the February hearing, Brown said Syed’s original defense attorney should have raised a disclaimer that was sent by AT&T with Syed’s cellphone records in court. The disclaimer, which appeared on a fax cover sheet, said location data from certain calls was not reliable.
The technician who testified at Syed’s 2000 trial did not appear at the February hearing, but said in an affidavit that the cover sheet caused him to have concerns about his original testimony.
Prosecutors used the phone records in 2000 to bolster testimony from the state’s star witness, Syed’s alleged accomplice Jay Wilds, and an FBI expert testified this year that the records were reliable and accurate.
“The Circuit Court properly found that the AT&T disclaimer, on its own, significantly undermines the State’s prized cell phone location evidence, creating a substantial possibility that the result of the trial was fundamentally unreliable,” Syed’s attorneys wrote in the filing Thursday.
In a separate filing, the defense also rejected new claims from two former classmates of alibi witness Asia McClain.
The former classmates came forward after the judge ordered a new trial and told the Attorney General’s Office that 17 years ago McClain told them that she would lie to help Syed avoid trouble. McClain has denied the claims.
“What the State seeks to do is no different than a defendant losing at trial and then requesting a new trial because he has now found a witness who would testify that the State’s critical witness lied,” they wrote.
“It is too late for that.”
Syed’s attorneys say he deserves a “new trial, with capable counsel.”
“If the State wishes to present the nuanced factual arguments it makes in its lengthy application, it can retry the case, just as the Circuit Court ordered,” they wrote.