As previously reported, last week a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge granted Adnan Syed a new trial for his conviction in the 1999 murder of his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. ThinkProgress, a project of the Center For American Progress Action Fund, delves into why, despite Judge Martin P. Welch’s decision, the case will likely not be retried.
The prosecution has stated that it will appeal the judge’s order for retrial, and assuming it’s unsuccessful, Judd Legum, writing for ThinkProgress, says that the prosecutors will have three options: go through a new trial, negotiate a plea deal, or dismiss the case. In 2000, Syed was sentenced to life in prison for Lee’s murder, and in 2014 his case was made famous by NPR’s immensely popular Serial podcast.
Syed’s conviction was based on the testimony of Jay Wilds, who said he helped his friend bury Lee’s body, and on cellphone tower records corroborating his story. Judge Welch granted the retrial in part because Syed’s original trial lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, failed to question the state expert regarding a fax cover sheet saying that such records could not accurately pinpoint cellphone locations.
This would make the cellphone records difficult to use as evidence in the new trial, leaving the prosecution to rely on Wilds’ testimony, which has been inconsistent—during the original trial, when Serial’s host Sarah Koenig spoke with him in 2014, and after Serial aired.
According to ThinkProgress, Syed could submit an Alford plea, wherein defendants maintain their innocence but admit that the evidence in their cases was great enough to convict them. (This is the same plea arrangement used by the defendants in the infamous West Memphis Three case to secure their release from prison in 2011.)
Legum notes that the fax sheet discrediting the cellphone evidence was discovered by the Undisclosed podcast, produced by Syed’s legal team.
“Ultimately, Syed may win his freedom,” Legum says, but he laments that “most people behind bars don’t have the benefit of a podcast that captures the national imagination, much less two.”