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Appeals judges say Adnan Syed, subject of 'Serial' podcast, entitled to new trial

Posted at 1:32 PM, Mar 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-30 08:30:26-04

Adnan Syed, the subject of the popular true crime podcast "Serial," is entitled to a new trial.

On Thursday, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued a 138-paged opinion upholding a judge's ruling vacating Syed's conviction.

The State of Maryland has 30 days to appeal the ruling to Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals. 

Syed was convicted in 2000 of murdering his ex-girlfriend and Woodlawn High School classmate, Hae Min Lee. 

RELATED:  Adnan Syed's attorney expects appeals court ruling this week

On Thursday, the appeals judges confirmed the defense's claim that Syed had ineffective assistance of trial counsel when his former attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, failed to cross-examine a potential alibi witness. Syed's classmate, Asia McClain said she saw Syed in the library around the same time the State said Lee was murdered.

In June 2016, a Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge vacated Syed's conviction finding that Syed had ineffective assistance when Gutierrez failed to cross-examine the state's expert regarding the reliability of cell tower location evidence, not a failure to contact a potential alibi witness.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals still agreed with the judge's ruling but not on the same issues.

"We won on the alibi issue and the other issue, the cell-tower issue was reversed. So, at the Circuit Court, we had won the cell-tower issue and lost the alibi issue but it was essentially a flip-flop," said Justin Brown, Syed's attorney.

Special Assistant Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah told ABC2, "We received the opinion and are reviewing the decision and dissent to determine next steps."

One of the three appeals judges didn't agree the defense proved ineffective counsel. Syed’s attorney passed away so she said there’s no real way of knowing whether it was ineffective counsel or if it was trial strategy to not call McClain to the stand. 

"It is our opinion that, if McClain’s testimony had been presented to the jury, it would have “alter[ed]the entire evidentiary picture because her testimony would have placed Syed at The Woodlawn Public Library at the time the State claimed that Syed murdered Hae ... Such testimony would have directly contradicted the State’s theory of when Syed had the opportunity and did murder Hae"

In the meantime, Brown said they will consider making another effort to get Syed out on bail. 

"We’ve been fighting for so long that it just feels great to get over yet another hurdle," said Brown. "'Serial' has also helped build this groundswell of support for us and for Adnan and for the case and that has really fueled these efforts and allowed us to keep fighting on in the way that we have."