Serial opened many Americans up to podcast, setting off a rush of copycat shows and helping to solidify the true crime genre. But its lasting impact in the courts has been blunted by Maryland’s highest court which has ruled Adnan Syed, the convicted murderer featured in the first season of Serial, does not deserve a new trial.
In a 4-3 vote handed down on Friday, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed an intermediate appeals court decision that said Syed should be given a new trial because his trial attorney was “deficient” since he didn’t contact an alibi witness.
“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,” Judge Clayton Greene wrote for the majority. In fact, he said her statements could have shown Syed had made “inconsistent” statements about his alleged role in the murder and could have “further undermined” his credibility.
The only reference to the Sarah Koenig-hosted podcast in the two decisions is in a footnote, which says that alibi witness, Asia McClain, ceased to provide help to Syed’s defense team in 2000 after speaking with prosecutors. But then in January 2014, after being interviewed for the Serial podcast, McClain “felt compelled” to provide an affidavit to Syed’s lawyer and offered to appear in court if necessary.
Syed was convicted in 2000 of killing his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. He’s currently serving a life sentence.
Syed's attorney Justin Brown said in a statement that they are "devastated" by the decision but he will “not give up” on his client, saying they’ll look at other ways to overturn the conviction. One option would be to ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision. Another is to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to step in. But legal experts say both are long shots for Syed.
“Our criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform. The obstacles to getting a new trial are simply too great," Brown said in a statement. "There was a credible alibi witness who was with Adnan at the precise time of the murder and now the Court of Appeals has said that witness would not have affected the outcome of the proceeding. We think just the opposite is true. From the perspective of the defendant, there is no stronger evidence than an alibi witness.”
The court’s decision came as HBO began airing a four-part documentary series about Syed’s case over the weekend. “The Case Against Adnan Syed” was created by documentary filmmaker Amy Berg. She described herself as a “fanatical listener” to the Serial podcast. “I was very curious to know more at the end of that 11-hour experience,” she told the New York Post. “In the beginning, I spoke to Sarah Koenig to let her know what I was going to do, and she gave us her blessing. She was at the end of this journey, and we were just beginning.”
Read the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling HERE.