More than 15 years after he was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Adnan Syed has been granted a hearing to let his lawyers present a possible alibi and questions about cellphone data. Attorneys for Syed, the key figure in the popular podcast Serial, also want to probe "alleged prosecutorial misconduct."
The new development comes months after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals granted Syed's request for a review of his case, giving new momentum to his efforts to appeal his 2000 conviction in the murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee in January of 1999. Lee's body had been found in a city park, one month after she disappeared. She had been strangled.
Now 35, Syed is serving a life prison term over Lee's death. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Martin Welch granted the request for a hearing Friday, ordering that it be scheduled sometime in the next 10 days.
The hearing will focus on several facets of Syed's case, including: allegations that his legal representation had been inadequate; claims that prosecutors engaged in misconduct; and the emergence of potential alibi testimony from Asia McClain, a former high school classmate of both Syed and Lee.
McClain was one of the people featured in the Serial podcast about Lee's killing and its aftermath. In an affidavit filed early this year, McClain said she had seen Syed in the Woodlawn High School library on the day of Lee's murder; she also said she was never contacted by Syed's defense attorney.
Questions about the reliability of cellphone-locator technology — and whether it was carefully scrutinized — are a new front in the case, opened by Syed's current attorney, Justin Brown.
From The Baltimore Sun:
"Brown also put forward for the first time a fax cover sheet from AT&T in which the phone company raised questions about the reliability of technology at the time to pinpoint the location of a phone.
"Brown obtained an affidavit from the state's expert witness regarding phone technology, who said he would have wanted to know about the disclaimer on the fax cover sheet and it could have changed his testimony."
In his order issued Friday, Welch said allowing Syed "to raise the issue of cell tower location reliability and supplement the record with relevant materials would be in the interests of justice."
Welch also ordered that Syed be allowed to introduce McClain's Jan. 13, 2015, affidavit, along with her potential testimony.
Serial, produced by Chicago Public Radio's WBEZ and This American Life, launched in October of 2014 and quickly attracted a devoted following. The second season of the podcast is expected to premiere this month.