Prosecutors Appeal Ruling Granting 'Serial' Subject Adnan Syed a New Trial

The state argued that the judge erred in allowing evidence related to cell tower transmissions to be presented at Syed's post-conviction hearing

Photo: Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS/Getty

The Maryland Attorney General’s office filed an appeal Monday to a judge’s recent ruling granting a new murder trial for Serial subject Adnan Syed.

In its appeal, the AG’s office argues that the judge erred in allowing consideration of new evidence relating to the reliability of cell phone tower evidence presented at Syed’s initial 2000 trial. The cell tower evidence helped convict Syed by corroborating the testimony of prosecution witness Jay Wilds, who claimed that he was with Syed when Syed buried his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in a Baltimore park. Lee was later found buried there.

The new evidence in question was a disclaimer on a fax cover sheet supplied by AT&T stating that cell records are unreliable for incoming calls, which Syed’s lawyers argued undermined the evidence used against him in 2000. In granting Syed a new trial, Judge Martin Welch based his ruling on this evidence and Syed’s original defense attorney’s failure to effectively cross-examine the prosecution’s cell phone expert about it.

But the AG’s office argues that the February post-conviction hearing was granted specifically to allow Syed to present a new alibi witness, Asia McClain, a high school classmate of Syed’s who claims she was in a library with Syed during the time prosecutors argued he killed Lee.

McClain testified at the hearing, but Welch vacate Syed’s conviction on the cell tower evidence rather than McClain’s testimony.

“Maryland’s courts have imposed few limits on what qualifies as in the ‘interests of justice,’ but limits remain,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Thiruvendran Vignarajah in the state’s 48-page appeal.

The state also argues that cell experts have different opinions on the validity of “Syed’s interpretation of the fax cover sheet.”

Victim’s Family Believes Syed is Guilty

Syed was a 17-year-old high school senior in 1999 when he was charged with the murder of Lee, a high school classmate. Syed was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison, yet always has maintained his innocence.

Lee’s family, meanwhile, continues to believe Syed killed Lee.

After Welch’s ruling, the AG’s office released a statement from Lee’s family saying that “justice was done” when Syed was convicted.

RELATED VIDEO: Adnan Syed of Serial Podcast Will Get a New Trial as Murder Conviction Is Vacated

“We do not speak as often or as loudly as those who support Adnan Syed, but we care just as much about this case,” they said in the statement. “We continue to grieve.”

After numerous failed appeals, 2014’s wildly popular Serial podcast brought Syed’s case to public attention, with 12 episodes raising questions about his guilt or innocence.

One of Serial‘s listeners, attorney Susan Simpson, started a spin-off podcast with two other attorneys called Undisclosed; it was Simpson who discovered the AT&T fax cover sheet in Syed’s case file.

Justin Brown, Syed’s lead defense attorney, has told PEOPLE that an appeal “could take a year or more to run its course. Part of it is up to the state to see how long they would drag it out.”

The appeals process also stops all trial proceedings, including the possibility of getting Syed out of prison on bail. Due to Welch’s ruling, Syed is still charged with Lee’s murder – but not convicted.

Last month, the powerhouse legal firm Hogan Lovells joined forces with Brown as pro bono co-counsel, with Brown remaining the lead attorney.

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