Why Adnan Syed Still Has a Chance to Appeal to the Supreme Court
Adnad Syed, who was found guilty of murdering his high school girlfriend, had his conviction overturned — and then reinstated — in a dramatic case that has swept the attention of true-crime fans.
After having his murder conviction overturned and then reinstated in one of the most gripping cases of the true-crime era, it would seem Adnan Syed is at the end of his road. But his lawyers are doing whatever they can to keep his case alive.
Syed was convicted in 2000 of killing his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, and burying her body in a shallow grave in Baltimore’s Leakin Park at the age of 17. He was sentenced to life in prison, and he's been behind bars for the last 19 years.
Now in his late 30s, Syed has always maintained his innocence, and his legal teams have been fighting the case in the courts. He was even granted a new trial in 2016. However, the state appealed that decision, and Maryland's highest court reinstated Syed's conviction in early March.
When their efforts seemed all but exhausted, Syed's lawyer tweeted a simple message.
"We will petition to the Supreme Court," Justin Brown wrote.
It set off a frenzy within the followers of Syed's case, with many wondering what could come from his team's "Hail Mary" play.
The deadline for that play was fast approaching. Syed's team had until July 18 to appeal Maryland's refusal to grant him a new trial and file it with the Supreme Court. But overwhelmed with other cases and clients, Syed's appellate attorney Catherine Stetson requested that the deadline be extended.
Chief Justice John Roberts granted that request late last month and gave the team until Aug. 19.
Though hope is still alive for Syed's team to argue his case to the highest court in the land, the likelihood of that actually happening is slim. About 7,000 to 8,000 cases are petitioned to the Supreme Court each year. The judges only hear about 80 of them.
Syed's attorneys are arguing that he had ineffective assistance of counsel with his first lawyer, claiming that she failed to investigate an alleged alibi. A classmate of Syed, Asia McClain, had said she was with Syed in the school library at the time police said Lee was murdered, but the lawyer never contacted her.
Stetson argued in her deadline extension request that it "presents an important question of federal law," whether ineffective assistance of counsel is prejudicial.
Syed's case gained international attention in the breakout podcast "Serial" in 2014. And in March, HBO dove deeper into the case with the docu-series "The Case Against Adnan Syed."
It was revealed in the docu-series that physical evidence recovered in the case was tested for DNA and none of it matched Syed. His attorneys are also homing in on this detail in their appeal efforts.
"There is no forensic evidence linking him to this crime," Brown tweeted.
And documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun "show prosecutors tested about a dozen items: fingernail clippings, blood samples, a liquor bottle and condom wrapper. None tested positive for the convicted killer, Syed," the paper reported.
But the state maintains that the other evidence gathered was more than enough to prove him guilty.
“The DNA tests did not exonerate Syed," a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office said in a statement to People. “In addition, there was plenty of evidence introduced during the trial that led to his conviction.”
Some of that other evidence came in the form of a story an acquaintance of Syed's told police. The man claimed that Syed killed Lee and showed him her body. The acquaintance said he then helped Syed bury the body.
However, the lack of forensic evidence tying Syed to Lee's killing would poke significant holes in the prosecution's case, Brown told The Sun.
“While these DNA results do not reveal the true killer, they do go a long way in showing that the wrong person is in prison,” he wrote.
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