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Court to hear appeal in Adnan Syed case

Syed convicted of killing Hae Min Lee in 2000
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Posted at 11:22 PM, Nov 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-29 12:19:43-05

It's a case that's had Baltimore captivated for 18 years now. Adnan Syed is in prison serving a life sentence after being convicted of killing his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.

Thursday, Maryland's highest court will hear arguments in his appeal.

Syed's case, made famous by the "Serial" podcast, heats up again Thursday.  He's appealing his conviction for the murder of ex-girlfriend Lee in 1999.

"I think the important thing for the public to know is that it's not a question of whether or not the defendant in the case, Adnan Syed is guilty of the crime.  It’s a very different question about whether or not there is a constitutional deficiency in his representation," said David Jaros of The University of Baltimore School of Law.

Lee was a senior in high school and went missing in January 1999.  Her body was found in February in Leakin Park. Syed was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.  

"The judges will rely on the record that’s in front of them which means they will read the briefs…transcripts….oral arguments…," Jaros said.

After a mistrial, and a second, six-week trial, Syed was convicted and sentenced to life.   He appealed saying his previous attorney failed to call a key alibi witness, Asia McClain who says she saw Syed at the Woodlawn  Public Library at the time of Lee's murder.  

In 2016, a Baltimore judge vacated Syed's conviction and ordered a new trial but the state appealed.  In an unexpected turn of events, in March of this year, the Court of Special Appeals upheld the Baltimore judge's ruling saying Syed's sixth amendment guarantee of effective assistance of counsel was violated.  The state appealed that too and in July the court of appeals agreed to consider whether to reinstate Syed's murder conviction.

Jaros continued, "It's not a simple thing for a defendant to find a constitutional defect in their conviction and now that there has been one found the burden will be on the state to get the court of appeals to reverse the decision."

That same judge also said the mishandling of cellphone tower evidence during the original was further reason for a new trial. 

Syed was convicted in 2000 and has been in prison for 18 years. Oral arguments are set to begin in Annapolis Thursday morning at 10. The court is expected to recess until January 3.