In 2000, Adnan Syed was sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Fourteen years later, he famously became the subject of the hit podcast Serial, which garnered international attention for revealing the many inconsistencies in his prosecution.
The complicated case got a fresh look in the HBO docuseries The Case Against Adnan Syed, which debuted in March. The four-part series focused on the ongoing efforts to free Syed and introduces new information that questions key players.
“The goal of this series was to get closer to the truth, and I think you’ll get there by the end,” producer Amy Berg said in a panel to discuss the project. “I wasn’t satisfied with the case that was presented in 1999 or the outcome. I still feel very frustrated that police detectives didn’t do their job in a thorough way. Things have changed since 1999. They didn’t even take color photos of the autopsy. There are so many cases that need to be reexamined because of these injustices.”
It’s been nearly two decades since Syed was convicted, and he’s still in the throes of a twisted legal battle. His conviction was overturned three years ago, but in March the Maryland Court of Appeals reinstated his conviction. Syed petitioned for a new trial, but on Monday the Supreme Court declined to hear his case. Here’s why.
In 2016, Syed’s conviction was overturned. He was granted a new trial, but always believed he would “leave prison in a coffin.”
Syed, who maintains his innocence, was granted a new trial in 2016, two years after Serial re-examined his case. The murder conviction was overturned by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Martin Welch, and there’s been a lot of legal back and forth ever since.
The State of Maryland appealed the granting of a new trial, but in March 2018, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision. The state of Maryland appealed again, and in July the Court of Appeals agreed to hear both sides.
Syed did not attend the court proceedings that occurred in November and was not allowed to watch them, according to Rabia Chaudry, Syed’s friend and author of Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial. She was recently quoted saying Syed believes he will “leave prison in a coffin.”
Even though his conviction was overturned, Syed remained incarcerated.
His lawyer Justin Brown stated on his website that this was because “Maryland law is not clear on the question of what standard applies to someone in Adnan’s specific situation. However, the Circuit Court ruled for the State and refused to let Adnan come to court for a bail hearing. We then appealed the Circuit Court’s decision to the Court of Special Appeals, but the appellate court did not grant us ‘leave to appeal.’ With this denial there was nothing else we could do. Thus, Adnan remains in prison.”
In March, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Syed would not get a new trial.
Four judges on the court wrote: “We agree with the conclusion of the Court of Special Appeals that Mr. Syed’s trial counsel’s performance was deficient under the Strickland v. Washington standard in failing to investigate the alibi witness. We disagree, however, with that court’s conclusion that Mr. Syed was prejudiced by his trial counsel’s deficiency.”
In the dissenting opinion, three of the judges said they believed the deficiency was, in fact, prejudicial against Syed and his defense.
That ruling was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear Syed’s case. His lawyer, Justin Brown, reportedly said he was “extremely disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Two courts have said he deserves a new trial, and then Maryland’s highest court reversed that. We think it’s appalling,” Brown told NPR. “We think this is a grave injustice. The way this has played out is sickening.”
His lawyer isn’t ready to give up.
After the Supreme Court’s decision was announced, Brown, whose Twitter bio says #FreeAdnan, reportedly said the legal fight isn’t over. “We won’t give up,” Brown told NPR.
In the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown wrote that “Syed is entitled to a new trial.”