The general public was up in arms following the release of the hit Netflix docuseries Making a Murderer in December. However, before Making a Murderer, there was Serial. Serial was a podcast released in October of 2014 featuring host Sarah Koenig, who told listeners about the story of Adnan Syed, a Baltimore man sent to prison for killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. The podcast describes details about the trial, the actors in the case, and includes interviews with some of the people involved—even Syed himself. Like Making a Murderer, the podcast hints at the possible innocence of the story’s protagonist.
Koenig won the Peabody award for her highly praised work in hosting and producing the podcast, which was the first one to ever receive the award. TIME magazine also named her as one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2015. Following the release of Serial’s twelfth and final first season episode, Syed was granted the ability to appeal his conviction by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals on grounds that Cristina Gutierrez, his original lawyer, provided him ineffective assistance.
Syed had previously attempted to appeal his conviction six years ago, but the motion was denied. In his post-conviction relief hearing, Syed’s new attorney, C. Justin Brown, presented new evidence at a hearing last week that may be enough to grant him a new trial. Brown focused on mishandled or improperly argued elements from Syed’s initial case that caused his conviction. He also presented testimony from another witness that did not testify in the original trial that gives Syed an alibi during the time of Lee’s murder.
That witness is Asia McClain, one of Syed’s former classmates, who was also interviewed by Koenig during the first season of Serial. McClain claims that she did not testify because Gutierrez did not contact her and also that Kevin Urick, the prosecutor in the original trial, encouraged her not to testify in the appeal filed by Syed in 2010 after convincing her that Syed was indeed guilty. Following the release of Serial and realizing the important role she played in the case, McClain now states that she was in the library with Syed at the time of Lee’s murder.
Brown’s defense also includes a challenge to the AT&T cell phone records that the state presented in the original trial, placing Syed in Leakin Park where Lee’s body was found. The state used incoming call records to place Syed in the park. However, Brown submitted evidence last year claiming that these records were improperly used because the phone company issued a statement that a cell phone could be physically placed using only outgoing call records. Brown called Gerald R. Grant Jr., a cellphone forensic analyst, to testify about Abraham Waranowitz’s original testimony on cellphone records.
Waranowitz was the cellphone analyst that the state called to the stand during the 1999 trial. He testified that call records could be used to show a person’s approximate location by which cellphone tower was pinged during the call. However, Waranowitz recently provided new testimony claiming that at the time of the trial, Urick did not make him aware of the AT&T disclaimer stating that incoming call records were not reliable in regards to pinpointing a cellphone’s physical location. Waranowitz states that because of this, he was not given proper instructions on how to analyze the cellphone records that were provided to him, which would have affected his testimony.
While the hearing is over, Syed awaits a decision on whether his conviction will be overturned. Stay tuned!