Adnan Syed of Serial Podcast Will Get a New Trial as Murder Conviction Is Vacated
Adnan Syed, the subject of the popular podcast Serial who has been serving a life sentence in prison for the 1999 murder of ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, had his conviction vacated Thursday and will get a new trial, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE.
According to the court order granting a new trial, Judge Martin P. Welch cited the cell phone tower data as the reason for vacating the conviction – specifically Syed’s former attorney’s “failure to cross-examine the state’s cell tower expert about the reliability of cell tower location evidence.”
“It is finally ordered that Petitioner’s request for a new trial is hereby granted,” Welch wrote in his order.
Speaking at a Thursday afternoon news conference, C. Justin Brown, Syed’s attorney, worked to temper his excitement: “We made a lot of progress, but we are not there.”
“This is an incredible victory, I am trying to act calm now,” he said. “We have been fighting for this day for, I think, about eight years now, and it’s been a grueling fight and there has been a lot of disappointments along the way and there were times when it looked like we lost.
“And we’ve made it and we got him a new trial.”
How Adnan and His Family Reacted
Though Brown said Thursday he had not been able to contact Syed and share the news of his new trial, he tweeted Friday that they had connected.
“He’s extremely happy about it, but he understands we still have a long way to go,” Brown tweeted.
Syed’s family had also heard what happened, Brown said at Thursday’s news conference – and they are thrilled.
“We are happy and in shock still,” Syed’s younger brother Yusuf tells PEOPLE. “We have waited 20 years for justice.”
“They were at times speechless,” Brown said Thursday of the moment when the family learned of the new trial. “So I had to check the phone line had not gotten cut off.”
“But they’re delighted,” he continued, “and I know how much this has weighed on me – but that’s probably a fraction of the pressure it has put on that family. They’re happy.”
Brown said he expects the state will appeal the ruling.
“We’re prepared to fight,” he said. “Our heels are dug in and the last three or four decisions in this case have gone our way, but we know that the state’s not gonna give up and we’ll be ready.”
Asked at the news conference about his expectations for Syed’s ultimate exoneration and release, Brown said, “I’m feeling pretty confident right now.”
“We will see if we can get him out on bail,” he said.
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The Case So Far
Syed has always proclaimed his innocence. This February, after years of unsuccessfully seeking a new trial, a Maryland judge presided over a post-conviction relief hearing where new evidence was presented.
This evidence included testimony from Asia Chapman, formerly Asia McClain, who said she was with Syed in a school library at the time prosecutors said he killed Lee.
Several days after Syed was arrested, Chapman said she wrote him a letter about seeing him in the library. The next day, she said she wrote a second letter to him offering help.
But Chapman was never contacted by Syed’s then-lawyer, the now-deceased Cristina Gutierrez, whose competency was one of the issues raised by the defense to try and win a new trial for Syed. Chapman’s two letters to Syed never came to light in either of the two trials that preceded his conviction and life sentence for Lee’s killing.
Coincidentally, the same day Syed’s new trial was ordered, Chapman tweeted that she had welcomed a baby.
Syed’s attorneys also claimed cell tower data used to help convict him was unreliable, and that the prosecution failed to disclose evidence which would have called the data’s reliability into question. The data was used to place Syed in the park where Lee’s body was later recovered on the night she disappeared.
The Lee family has not yet commented on Syed’s new trial. But after the first day of Syed’s hearing for a new trial, earlier this year, Deputy Maryland Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah read aloud a statement from them.
The hearing is forcing “us to relive a nightmare we thought was behind us,” the family said.
Their statement continued: “We believe justice was done when Adnan was convicted in 2000, and we look forward to bringing this chapter to an end so we can celebrate the memory of Hae instead of celebrating the man who killed her.”
• With reporting by ELAINE ARADILLAS