'Serial' Subject Adnan Syed Feels 'Cautiously Optimistic' About Retrial, Says Lawyer; Victim's Family Is 'Very Disappointed'

Adnan Syed remains in a Maryland prison after a judge granted him a new trial in the murder of ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee

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

After many years of lost appeals, a judge last week ordered a new trial for Adnan Syed, the subject of the popular Serial podcast who is currently serving a life sentence for the 1999 murder of his former high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.

Syed’s attorney, C. Justin Brown, tells PEOPLE that “it’s been a whirlwind” since the June 30 decision.

“We’re feeling good,” he says. “You feel good for two or three days and then we get back to work.”

Brown has spoken to Syed several times on the phone since the shocking decision was made by Judge Martin P. Welch.

“He’s doing well. He’s very excited by the news but he’s also very understanding of the legal process and he understands that there is a lot more work to be done on this case,” says Brown. “He’s going to be patient with that and let it run its course.”

The state has 30 days to appeal the ruling. Although the state has not yet made an official appeal, the Maryland attorney general’s office said in a statement that it “will defend what it believes is a valid conviction.”

The AG’s office also released a statement from Lee’s family saying they were “very disappointed by the judge’s decision” and that “justice was done” when Syed was convicted of murdering Lee.

“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.”

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Brown, who has said he will pursue bail for Syed, tells PEOPLE: “We have not made any final decisions about how, if and when we are going to proceed with bail. We are looking at the big picture.”

Asked about any negatives to pursuing bail, Brown says: “That goes to our legal strategy, so I can’t comment on that.”

In 2013, Welch denied Syed’s first post-conviction relief efforts. But for the second post-conviction relief hearing in 2015, Syed’s defense team presented new evidence – a fax cover sheet from AT&T stating that the cell phone records prosecutors used to put Syed at the scene where he allegedly buried Lee’s body were not reliable for incoming calls.

The prosecution’s cell phone expert was not aware of this information at the time he testified at Syed’s trial, and when he learned about the new information he signed sworn affidavits essentially recanting his testimony.

Welch ruled that because Syed’s original defense attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, did not cross-examine the cell expert on this issue during his 2000 trial, she was so deficient that Syed’s conviction should be vacated and he should be granted a new trial.

VIDEO: Adnan Syed Granted New Trial

That could be a very long time coming, says Brown. If the state appeals the judge’s ruling, “it could take a year or more to run its course,” he says. “Part of it is up to the state to see how long they would drag it out.”

If they do, Brown will have a lot more help. He revealed for the first time Wednesday that because the case is “so big,” the powerhouse legal firm of Hogan Lovells has joined forces with Brown and partner Christopher Nieto as pro bono co-counsel, with Brown remaining lead attorney.

“If the state elects to proceed with a retrial, we intend to tap into our extensive trial experience and many years of handling innocence cases to work to ensure that Adnan receives the best legal defense possible,” Steve Barley, managing partner of Hogan Lovells’ Baltimore office, said in a statement.

There is the remote chance that Syed could leave prison a free man, without having to undergo a new trial. “The state has the power to make that happen if they want it to happen,” Brown says. “If they don’t pursue the appeal and not pursue new charges, then he comes home.”

However, Brown admits “that’s a lot of ifs there.”

Brown last spoke to Syed on Sunday, and says his client is “cautiously optimistic” about all that’s happening.

“He seems more hopeful than I’ve seen him in a long time,” says Brown, “and his spirits are high.”

Brown, meanwhile, feels “more hopeful” now than in the seven years he’s represented Syed.

“We started with our backs against the wall, but we’ve been marching forward slowly and making progress,” Brown tells PEOPLE. “Getting the new trial is in a lot of ways the most difficult step.”

Related Articles