Maryland’s highest court ruled Friday to reinstate the murder conviction of Adnan Syed from nearly two decades ago, a blow to those who hoped he would get a retrial. The opinion from the Court of Appeals reverses the ruling made by a lower appellate court last year.
Syed’s story was the subject of the true-crime podcast “Serial,” which became an international hit after premiering in late 2014. Host Sarah Koenig spent the first season chronicling events surrounding the murder of Syed’s former girlfriend Hae Min Lee, his Woodlawn High School classmate whose body was found in Baltimore’s Leakin Park. Syed was convicted of murder in 2000 and has since been serving a life sentence, but the podcast led many listeners to believe in his innocence. An HBO documentary premiering this Sunday, titled “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” will further explore the case.
A circuit court vacated Syed’s conviction in 2016, citing the “ineffective assistance” of a former attorney who failed to investigate an alibi witness. In March 2018, the Court of Special Appeals upheld the ruling granting Syed a new trial.
In Friday’s ruling, the higher Court of Appeals agreed that Syed’s initial legal counsel had been “deficient” but, on a 4-3 vote, determined that this had not prejudiced his case and that he had waived his claim of ineffective counsel. The higher court ordered that the lower one reverse its 2018 judgment granting Syed a new trial.
Syed’s current attorney, Justin Brown, tweeted the hashtag #FreeAdnan after the Friday opinion. In a blog post, he wrote, “We are devastated by the Court of Appeals’ decision but we will not give up on Adnan Syed,” though he acknowledged that the “obstacles to getting a new trial are simply too great.” Brown told the Baltimore Sun there are “at least three other avenues of relief” that he would explore. The Washington Post has put in a request seeking further comment.