Adnan Syed Of 'Serial' Fame Denied New Trial, Maryland Court Upholds Conviction

Adnan Syed continues to serve life for the 1999 murder of his high school ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.

March 11, 2019
Adnan Syed [ABC News/screenshot]

Photo by: Adnan Syed [ABC News/screenshot]

Adnan Syed [ABC News/screenshot]

By: Mike McPadden

BALTIMORE, MD — Adnan Syed was denied a new trial last Friday in a 4-3 decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The new ruling upheld Syed’s conviction in the 1999 murder of his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee.

Friday’s vote overturned last year's court decision that vacated Syed’s original conviction, which would have cleared the way for a new trial.

Syed has been serving a life term since 2000. He has always maintained his innocence.

The Hae Min Lee murder case and Syed’s subsequent conviction became famous after being the subject of the popular 2014 podcast Serial.

The Maryland Court’s 2018 ruling was based on the argument that Syed’s defense attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, failed to do her job by not contacting Asia McClain Chapman, a potential alibi witness. Chapman maintains she was at a library with Syed at the exact time that prosecutors claim he murdered Lee.

On Friday, the Court of Appeals ruled that Gutierrez’s failure to call Chapman was “deficient,” but not to the degree that it “prejudiced” against Syed, citing what it believed was other strong evidence against the defendant.

Judge Clayton Greene Jr., writing for the majority, stated: “Given the totality of the evidence the jury heard, we conclude that there is not a significant or substantial possibility that the verdict would have been different had trial counsel presented [Chapman as a witness].”

In a concurring opinion, Judge Shirley Watts noted the presence of, “several obvious indications that McClain’s version of events was false” and added, “Syed’s trial counsel was not required to call McClain as a witness just because there was a chance, however slight, that the jury would have viewed her testimony as exculpatory. No reasonable criminal defense lawyer would advocate that, in every case, the defense should, to use a colloquialism, ‘throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.’”

Justin Brown, the head of Syed’s defense team, wrote in a blog statement, “We are devastated by the Court of Appeals’ decision, but we will not give up on Adnan Syed. Our criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform. The obstacles to getting a new trial are simply too great.”

Brown added that the team would be exploring “at least three other avenues of relief,” but he did not specifically name them.

Asia McClain Chapman addressed the court’s ruling in an interview posted to Twitter on Friday.

Chapman called the decision “not acceptable” and added, “I don’t even know how to process this right now. It doesn’t make sense to me. But to say that you think that I’m credible and you acknowledge this act that wasn’t done by the book. And that [Syed’s attorney] was wrong for not contacting me. But then to say that you don’t think it would make a difference, makes no sense… The whole case is a mess.”

For more on this case, watch Investigation Discovery's Adnan Syed: Innocent or Guilty? on ID GO now!

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