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November 07, 2015

'Serial' protagonist Adnan Syed gains ground in appeal of 1999 murder

Baltimore judge rules new evidence supporting alibi must be considered

The man at the center of the Peabody Award-winning podcast 'Serial' sealed an encouraging legal victory Friday after a Baltimore judge granted his motion to re-open his case and admit evidence supporting his alibi in the 1999 death of his girlfriend Hae Min Lee.

Adnan Syed was found guilty of Lee's murder in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison despite pleading his innocence. The case was reopened earlier this year after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals determined Syed's attorney provided ineffective counsel by neglecting to seek a plea bargain in the trial.

Syed's defense attorney then filed a motion in August to introduce new evidence in the case. 

On Friday, an order by Circuit Court for Baltimore City Chief Judge Martin P. Welch ruled that post-conviction proceedings should be reopened "in the interests of justice for all parties," Slate reports.

The new alibi evidence relates to a message Syed received from a potential witness, Asia McClain, while awaiting trail. McClain claimed that she saw Syed in the library of Baltimore's Woodlawn High School at the time Lee is believed to have been murdered. Syed's attorney never contacted McClain, providing grounds for reconsideration based on ineffectiveness of counsel.

Judge Welch also cited a possible failure to properly cross-examine a state expert on cell tower location evidence used as the centerpiece of the state's case against Syed. A warning from AT&T about the unreliability of locating a person based on incoming calls would have resulted in the state's evidence being tossed had it been introduced in court.

'Serial,' the blockbuster spinoff of 'This American Life,' re-examined the case step by step, garnering more than 68 million downloads by early 2015. The series sparked a podcast renaissance led by producers Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder.

Two first of two new seasons of the podcast, billed to feature different stories, is scheduled premiere some time before the end of 2015.