#FreeAdnan: convict investigated in podcast 'Serial' earns appeal

It took me four days to listen to the first season of “Serial” in its entirety. The nine hours of investigative journalism by “This American Life” journalists were unexpectedly addictive. A murderous plot, complex characters, a case that was never really solved, theories, interviews, evidence and it was completely non-fictitious — I was hooked.

Although the first season has come to an end, nothing has changed for Adnan until now. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals released on Friday that Syed’s lawyers could continue the appeals process. This is huge for fans of "Serial," who have found themselves strangely invested in the 15-year-old case. Syed could actually obtain the freedom he deserves.


But, I would be shocked if much comes from this in the near future. Even Sarah Koenig, the Podcast’s creator, wrote on Serial’s blog, “It’s bound to grind on for a long while yet.” This is a lengthy, tedious process that often results in nothing but a lot of spent money. With the new evidence provided by Asia McClain, Syed could potentially get some kind of break.

For those of you who have not yet committed yourself to the Podcast, Adnan Syed, 33, is in prison for life plus 30 years after he was found guilty for the murder of his high school ex-girlfriend in 1999. At 19, Syed was convicted of strangling 18-year-old Hae Min Lee and burying her in shallow grave in the woods of Baltimore.

However, it was made evident throughout the series that there was not nearly enough evidence to convict Syed. Of course, his inability to recall any sort of ability does not help his case either.

A series of interviews with one of Syed’s peers, Jay Wilds, was the ultimate key to Syed’s original guilty verdict. Wilds claimed that Syed admitted to killing Lee and asked him to help dispose of her body. Wilds went on to admit to helping Syed to bury Lee and dispose of evidence, and still somehow ended up only getting probation. However, Wilds’ story was never consistent. Every interview he participated in brought up flaws in his alibi, changes in his timeline and different events.

So now that “#FreeAdnan” makes more sense to non-listeners, we are faced with the newest non-episode of the story — the path toward an appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. On Friday, Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser gave Syed’s lawyers the green light on his Application for Leave to Appeal.

The podcast was created by journalists Sarah Koenig, Julie Snyder, Dana Chivvis and Emily Condon. The team spent months working on the case, piecing together stories, asking questions and finding few definite answers. With so many glaring bald spots in the alibis and accounts of the afternoon of Jan. 13, 1999, the mystery was never conclusively solved. Koenig ended the series with encyclopedias of more information and little to actually conclude. But, Syed’s newest advancement is certainly not without Koenig’s influence.

Koenig posted an update on Serial’s official blog, keeping true to her promise in the season finale to not abandon her hard work just because the season ended. She wrote, “Adnan argued that his trial attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, had screwed up in various ways. Chiefly, he’d argued that her failure to speak to Asia McClain, a potential alibi witness, and Gutierrez’s failure to seek a plea deal for him, even though he says he asked her to, amounted to what’s called ‘ineffective assistance of counsel.’”

McClain comes into the series as one of Syed’s acquaintances who has claimed to have seen Syed at the local library during the afternoon of the murder. However, for reasons unknown, she was never called upon as a witness by Syed’s lawyer during the original trial.

There is debate about his guilt, but regardless of his degree of innocence, there was not enough evidence to convict him. I definitely have a reasonable doubt, as do many others. “#FreeAdnan” was trending on Twitter, and now that his appeal is in motion, thousands are showing their interest and support.


Reach the columnist at smmaki@asu.edu or follow @Syd_neym on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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