Washington (AFP) – An appeals court in the US state of Maryland on Thursday granted a new trial to a man convicted of his ex-girlfriend’s 1999 murder, in a case that received worldwide attention thanks to the hit podcast “Serial.”
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals found that Adnan Syed, now in his late 30s, received ineffective counsel and ordered that his 2000 conviction on charges of murder, kidnapping and false imprisonment be vacated.
Syed had been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, whose strangled body was found buried in a shallow grave in the woods of Baltimore, Maryland.
Both Syed and Hae were honor students and children from immigrant families who had concealed their relationship from their conservative parents.
Prosecutors laid out a clear case, saying Syed’s conservative Muslim upbringing made him feel especially humiliated, but his supporters said authorities had failed to contact a witness who claimed she saw Syed at the time of the murder in a public library.
The case earned new attention when it was taken up by “Serial,” a weekly podcast that saw a US journalist revisit the case and cast doubt on his guilt.
The podcast — a mix of investigative journalism, first-person narrative and dramatic storytelling — focused its first season entirely on Syed’s story in 12 nail-biting episodes. They were downloaded more than 175 million times, a world record.
“We conclude that his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel has been established,” the Maryland court said in its ruling.
“Accordingly, Syed’s murder conviction must be vacated, and because Syed’s convictions for kidnapping, robbery, and false imprisonment are predicated on his commission of Hae’s murder, these convictions must be vacated as well,” it added.
“The instant case will be remanded for a new trial on all charges against Syed.”