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Serial's Adnan Syed could be free later this year after retrial decision

There might not be enough evidence for a new trial, his campaigner says.

Image: Associated Press

ADNAN SYED, THE man at the centre of the popular podcast ‘Serial’, could be free this year after being granted a retrial, one of his key supporters says.

Rabia Chaudry, a lawyer who first brought Syed’s case to light, said she believes the state of Maryland could offer Syed a plea deal instead of a new trial due to a lack of evidence against him.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Chaudry said she was “overwhelmed” at the court decision yesterday.

“We’re all a bit in shock,” she said.

Even though we’ve been fighting for this for 17 years, when you finally hear it, it is hard to grasp. But we are overjoyed.

Retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Martin Welch ruled on Thursday that Adnan Syed, 35, should be granted a new trial in the case that became the focus of the podcast which captivated millions of listeners around the world.

Syed has spent 16 years in prison for the killing of his former high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.

926ced522220b016c37ea06dae197198 Hae Min Lee.

Syed was convicted in 2000 of strangling Lee a year earlier and burying her in a shallow grave in a park in northwest Baltimore. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The case was picked up by journalist Sarah Koenig and made into the podcast Serial, which first aired in October 2014 and went on to be the most popular podcast of all time.

The loyal army of listeners often acted as armchair detectives, uncovering new evidence and raising new questions about the case.

Chaudry said the retrial decision is already being appealed by the prosecution, but she said she was confident this appeal would be rejected. She said if this happened, a retrial might not necessarily take place.

I think the state of Maryland might realise they have nothing to go to trial with. They don’t have a case after all these years. So I think they might just offer him a plea deal. That could happen this year.

Key evidence

During a post-conviction hearing in early February, Syed’s lawyers argued he deserved a retrial on the grounds that his original lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, did not contact Asia McClain Chapman, an alibi witness who said she saw Syed at the Woodlawn library about the same time prosecutors say Lee was murdered.

They also argued mobile phone tower data linking Syed’s phone to the burial site on the day of Lee’s murder was misleading because it was presented to jurors without a cover sheet warning that incoming call data was unreliable.

Judge Welch disagreed that Gutierrez erred when she failed to contact Chapman, or that prosecutors breached their duty by withholding exculpatory evidence.

But the judge did agree that Syed’s attorney should have cross-examined a state’s expert witness about the reliability of cell tower data that placed him near the burial site.

Serial Podcast Adnan Syed's mother and brother in their Baltimore home. Source: AP/Press Association Images

“Desperate last effort”

Chaudry said Serial shone light on Syed’s case, but was often difficult to listen to.

“Serial brought incredible attention to the case, attention that we needed to have the case taken seriously, because we were at a dead end in the appeals,” she said.

For me, as someone who has been his friend and advocate for 17 years it was always about a man’s life. It was a little bit hard for me and his family because this was our desperate last effort. But it ultimately led to more investigation.

Chaudry said she had yet to speak to Syed about the news, as he is only allowed a phone call every second day.

“He’ll be calling us today,” she said. “Most the times there’s news, he hears it on television or from the guards. He is well-liked in prison and has a good relationship with them.”

Chaudry said she hadn’t been in touch with the Lee family, but said an investigation was currently underway in relation to another suspect in the killing.

“I do think there’s a chance we might be able to make an arrest of the right person,” she said.

Additional reporting: Associated Press

Read: Adnan Syed from Serial is getting a new trial

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