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Supreme Court declines to review murder case chronicled in ‘Serial’ podcast

Posted at 11:35 AM, Nov 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-25 11:35:12-05

The Supreme Court on Mondaydeclined to review the case of Adnan Syed, whose murder conviction was the focus of the first season of the popular “Serial” podcast.

Lawyers for Syed had petitioned the high court to take up the case in August, asking the nine justices to reverse a March ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals that refused to grant Syed a new trial as he serves a life sentence in the slaying of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999.

The petition, filed by lawyers C. Justin Brown and Catherine Stetson along with other lawyers at the Washington law firm Hogan Lovells, stated that that basis for the Supreme Court to take up the case rested on the “straightforward legal issue” of ineffective counsel provided by Syed’s trial attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, who is deceased.

“At least 10 state and federal courts apply a simple approach: They compare the case that the State actually presented at trial with the case that the defendant would have presented if his attorney had been effective,” the petition stated, citing in part Gutierrez’s failure to call an alibi witness.

“The Maryland Court of Appeals departed from the majority approach and found no prejudice despite the failure of Syed’s counsel to present an alibi witness for the exact time that the State says he committed murder. There are no vehicle problems to reaching the question at issue, which has been briefed and argued throughout three state courts. Syed should have the opportunity to present his alibi to a jury, and the jury — not the Maryland Court of Appeals — should decide its worth,” the petition states.

Syed and Lee were seniors at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County in January 1999 when she disappeared. Her strangled body was discovered in a city forest three weeks later.

A jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City convicted Syed of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment on February 25, 2000. During the trial one of his friends, Jay Wilds, testified that he helped Syed dig a hole for Lee’s body.