The 'Serial' case is being appealed, here's what you need to know
If you haven’t listened to Serial, the podcast where journalist Sarah Koenig unspools a 1999 high school murder mystery week by week, go now and catch up. For the rest of us who suffered through withdrawal last Thursday when Serial paused for the holiday, new information in the news this week added a twist to the case: Adnan Syed, found guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 2000, will have another chance to plead his innocence in court.
Syed’s case will head to the Maryland appeals court in January. As much as some of us would like to think Serial’s popularity had something to do with this, his appeal was really five years in the making. Honestly at this point, it’s hard to know if Serial is actually helping or hurting Syed.
For those not religiously updating their podcasts every Thursday, Syed is currently serving a life sentence at a state person for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Lee. The case against him states that Syed strangled Lee to death 16 years ago, and then buried her body in a shallow grave. As Serial listeners know, there were no witnesses to the crime and the only real testimony against Syed is from an alleged-accomplice named Jay.
On the one hand, Koenig’s fantastic reporting — including interviews with Syed, friends of both his and Lee’s, and a slew of legal experts — has exposed the shakiness of Syed’s conviction: in particular, Jay’s testimony has him claiming that the then 17-year old Syed showed him Lee’s dead body and asked him to help bury her in the park.
There’s also that already stated issue of zero eyewitnesses, and a potential alibi that was never discussed in court. This information is what Syed’s lawyer, C. Justin Brown, used to win Syed another date in court. As Koenig pointed out in the very first podcast, a credible witness who was able to vouch for Syed’s location at the exact time he is suspected of killing Lee, was never asked to testify during the original hearing. The result was a case that hinged on an incompetent defense and Syed’s inability to remember his whereabouts the day of the murder, ultimately leading to his conviction. And now, Brown calls the appeal Syed’s “last best chance at freedom.”
Still, while Serial has earned Syed many a compassionate ear, the podcast also blasts open some holes in Syed’s story, which may not be so useful come January. For one, there’s the issue of Syed’s whereabouts the day of the murder. There’s also his cell phone record, which the prosecution relied on heavily to convict in 2000. One phone call to a former fling has the potential to prove that Syed was in the wrong place at the wrong time that day.
Whether you believe Syed, who is now 34 years old, is guilty or not, his last real chance at overturning his conviction will come down to his lawyer’s ability to prove the ineffectiveness of Syed’s council 15 years ago. His fate is ultimately in the hands of the judges, not the listeners. But until that day, Syed’s testimony will continue to play out weekly on Serial — for better or for worse.