After the 2014 podcast Serial became a worldwide sensation, many were left doubting that convicted murderer Adnan Syed was guilty of killing former high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, when Syed was 17.
The Syed family friend who brought the case to the attention of Serial producer Sarah Koenig is certain they got the wrong man.
“I totally believe in his innocence,” that friend, attorney Rabia Chaudry, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
Once Serial aired and others became intrigued, Chaudry, 42, shared Syed’s case files for renewed investigation. She now has written a book, Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial, in which she questions the innocence of Don Clinedinst, Lee’s boyfriend at the time of her death, and lays out new details that she believes exonerate Syed.
While Lee’s family still believes Syed was properly convicted, the new details unearthed by Chaudry already have produced results.
Attorney Susan Simpson, co-host with Chaudry of the podcast Undisclosed, which continues to examine Syed’s case, discovered a document related to cell-phone tower records that raised questions about the reliability of data used to place Syed in a Baltimore, Maryland, park on the night of Lee’s disappearance, where her body later was found. On June 30, a judge vacated Syed’s life sentence and ordered a new trial for him based on Syed’s former attorney’s “failure to cross-examine the state’s cell tower expert about the reliability of cell tower location evidence,” according to the ruling.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office has since appealed the judge’s ruling, and Syed remains in prison as he awaits retrial.
Here are five other points Chaudry believes could free Syed:
• The Autopsy Report
At Syed’s 2000 trial, Syed acquaintance Jay Wilds testified that Syed showed him Lee’s body in the trunk of Lee’s car, and that he helped Syed bury Lee in Leakin Park around 7 p.m. the night of January 13, 1999, about four-and-a-half hours after Syed allegedly strangled her.
But Chaudry says the autopsy report makes this scenario “impossible.”
“The autopsy says that after she was killed, she was lying somewhere flat on her face for at least 10 to 12 hours before she was left in the park,” says Chaudry. “Where was she those 10 hours?”
For more on Chaudry’s mission to free Adnan Syed and to read an excerpt of her new book, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.
• The Whereabouts of Lee’s Then-Boyfriend, Don Clinedinst
Early in the investigation, Clinedinst was quickly cleared by police because he had an alibi – he was working his job at LensCrafters, filling in for a lab technician at a different store location.
Chaudry tells PEOPLE that Lee told a classmate she was to see Clinedinst after school the day she disappeared.
In her book, Chaudry details how Simpson and another person with his own podcast about the case allegedly discovered that Clinedinst’s timecard for that day appeared to be falsified, with the hours altered before anyone knew Lee was dead.
Chaudry tells PEOPLE that Clinedinst’s alibi was provided by a store manager who was the girlfriend of Clinedinst’s mother – and that police were unable to talk to Clinedinst until about 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 14, 1999, the day after Lee vanished.
“We have to closely look at Don, but I won’t leap to the conclusion that he is guilty,” Chaudry says. “I think his actions were incredibly suspicious.”
Clinedinst could not be reached for comment by PEOPLE.
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• Lack of Soil Evidence Tying Syed to the Park where Lee was Buried
Wilds testified that after he and Syed buried Lee, Syed drove Lee’s car from the park to a nearby street and dumped it. Yet no soil from Leakin Park was ever found in or on Lee’s car in tests conducted by the Baltimore Police crime lab, Chaudry tells PEOPLE.
• Lack of DNA and Other Non-Circumstantial Evidence
Chaudry tells PEOPLE that police collected swabs from Lee’s body – including vaginal swabs – but they never tested them for DNA despite the fact that Lee was found with her long black skirt gathered above her waist.
Chaudry suspects they didn’t do this and other DNA testing because the results would show Syed had no involvement with Lee’s murder.
• Alibi Witness Asia McClain
McClain, a high school classmate of Syed’s, testified at his 2016 post-conviction hearing that she was in the library with Syed after school during the time prosecutors said he killed Lee at 2:36 p.m.
Shortly after Syed’s arrest, McClain wrote Syed two letters reminding him about their time that day. Syed had given the letters to his original defense attorney, Cristina Gutierrez. But Gutierrez never contacted McClain and she never got to testify at his trial that she was with him until about 2:40 p.m. the day Lee disappeared.
While the judge did not grant Syed’s new trial due to McClain’s testimony at the post-conviction hearing, Chaudry believes McClain will still help his case when there is a retrial and a jury hears that McClain was with Syed during the time the state argues Lee was killed.
Soon after Syed’s 2000 conviction, Chaudry spoke with McClain. “When Asia told me nobody had contacted her, that was the moment when I determined I had to be hands-on, to make sure nothing like this happened again,” Chadury said.
Chaudry asked McClain to write an affidavit describing what happened. It took 16 years before McClain testified in court.