Today Sarah Koenig, host of NPR’s Serial podcast, has responded to news that a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge granted Adnan Syed a new trial last week. Syed was convicted for the 1999 murder of his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, which became the subject of Serial’s wildly popular first season in 2014.
Judge Martin P. Welch’s decision on June 30 to grant a retrial hinged on the failure of Syed’s original trial lawyer, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, to question the state’s expert regarding the reliability of cellphone tower evidence.
Koenig said on Serial’s website that the news prompted her to revisit her first conversation with Syed, which took place two and a half years ago. Syed had just received Judge Welch’s previous decision denying his request for postconviction relief. “At the time, it seemed to me Adnan was spinning optimistic. Possibly falsely so,” says Koenig. “I mean, his legal options, by any clear-eyed assessment, were moribund.” Syed has maintained his innocence since receiving his conviction and life sentence in 2000.
For Koenig, who’s dedicated countless hours to investigating Syed’s case, the news came as a surprise:
I happened to be on Skype with our Executive Producer Julie Snyder, and both of us did exactly the same involuntary thing of sucking in our breath and then putting our hands over our mouths. We weren’t so much shocked because of the legal arguments, but because it was such a long shot, this outcome.
While Serial drew a lot of attention to Syed’s case, Koenig notes that the issue with the cellphone towers was uncovered by lawyer Susan Simpson through the Undisclosed podcast started by Rabia Chaudry, the immigration attorney who initially brought the case to Koenig’s attention. Simpson tracked down the state’s cellphone expert, who could not stand by his 2000 testimony. Koenig has also posted Judge Welch’s “lively” and “fascinating” opinion on the Serial website. Koenig said that Syed’s lawyer, C. Justin Brown, will request bail for his client as they await the new trial.