How the popularity of 'Serial' helped Adnan Syed get a second chance
There may finally be an ending to the Serial saga.
Adnan Syed, whose murder conviction became our nation’s fascination thanks to last year’s Serial podcast, is getting a new day in court. The former Baltimore high school student accused of the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee was recently granted a hearing to reopen his case to address potential new evidence. Rabia Chaudry, a public advocate for Syed and co-host of the Undisclosed podcast, tells EW what this really means.
Syed’s classmate Asia McClain came forward with an alibi for Syed at the time of the murder, and an AT&T document discovered by Chaudry’s colleague proves that Syed’s location that day — previously determined via phone records — cannot be considered reliable. “The judge has opened the door to explore prosecutorial misconduct on these issues,” Chaudry says. “It seems like it’s a very broad order, so other issues also could be raised, other evidence of (Syed’s lawyer) Cristina Gutierrez’s failure to be an effective attorney.”
“The only reason Asia is back in the case is because she listened to Serial,” she adds. “She had no idea what the prosecutor said at the [original] hearing, so she heard the podcast and said ‘No wait, that’s not what happened,’ and then she came forward again. These things have had a tremendous impact, and there’s no way we would’ve had this hearing reopened without both Serial and Undisclosed.”
A hearing will take place, likely early next year, according to Chaudry, who is also a fellow with the New America Foundation. “Asia will testify, and Adnan will be present,” she says. “The judge will look at everything and either say, ‘I’m denying post conviction relief, everything looks fine to me’ and we’re back to square one, or based on any one of these claims – whether it’s ineffective assistance of counsel or a Brady violation – he can order a new trial.” That means Jay, Jenn, and all those close to the investigation whom fans of Serial will recognize would have to return to court if the state wanted to reprosecute the case.
What are the potential outcomes?
“If Adnan gets a new trial, I’m 99 percent positive the state would not retry the case,” Chaudry says. “I think at that point they would say, ‘We’re screwed anyways.’” That could mean a plea deal for Syed, which could mean anything from a shorter sentence to release.
Syed learned about the judge’s recent ruling shortly after the rest of the world did when he spoke to his family on the phone Friday night. “He’s incredibly grateful,” Chaudry says. “He’s pretty convinced that if the podcast didn’t happen, it would be the end of the road for him.”