'The Case Against Adnan Syed': Court denies new trial for murder convict as documentary explores possibility of overlooked clues
Adnan was convicted in 2000 for murdering his former girlfriend, 17-year-old Hae Min Lee, and burying her body in a park in Baltimore.
Nearly a year after murder convict Adnan Syed was granted a new trial following his stardom through the hit journalism podcast 'Serial' — which chronicled his story and the loose ends resulting in his incarceration — the decision has been reversed. Maryland’s highest court on Friday denied a fresh trial to Adnan after his original trial 20 years ago. The court of appeals agreed with a lower court in a 4-3 opinion that Adnan's counsel was deficient in failing to investigate an alibi witness. However, it disagreed that the deficiency prejudiced Adnan's case.
Adnan was convicted in 2000 for murdering his former girlfriend, 17-year-old Hae Min Lee, and burying her body in a park in Baltimore. The 2014 podcast, however, made Adnan an international phenomenon, when it delved into the case extensively, highlighting lingering questions and new witnesses and prompted calls of a fresh trial with the emergence of an alibi.
A lower court in Baltimore had ordered a retrial in 2016 on the grounds that Adnan's former attorney — Cristina Gutierrez who died in 2004 — did not contact an alibi witness and provided ineffective counsel. The state subsequently appealed. However, the special appeals court upheld the lower court's ruling in 2017, and the state later appealed the decision again.
The court of appeals judge Clayton Greene, in a majority opinion, on Friday said "There is not a significant or substantial possibility that the verdict would have been different” if the alibi witness, Asia McClain, would have testified claiming she saw Adnan at a library in Woodlawn around the same time the state contends he killed Lee on January 13, 1999.
“Ms McClain would have been an alibi witness who contradicted the defendant’s own statements, which were themselves already internally inconsistent; thus Ms McClain’s proffered testimony could have further undermined Mr Syed’s credibility,” the court wrote, according to The Guardian.
The latest verdict on the case comes at the time of the release of HBO's new documentary — 'The Case Against Adnan Syed', which picks up from where Serial left the story. Directed by Academy-award nominee Amy Berg, the film with its new discoveries and groundbreaking revelations highlights the gaping holes in our criminal justice system as it challenges the state's case against Adnan.
The film, which explores every detail of the case including featuring multiple interviews of the Syed family, his defense team, his and Hae's friends and teachers, traces how the state rushed into Adnan's conviction, raising more questions than answers about what exactly happened to Hae Min Lee.
The documentary goes beyond Serial in giving an in-depth perspective on Hae. We see a glimpse of the teenager’s routine life through the readings of her personal diary, as the film transforms her written words into animation and gives them a life form in her absence. We see a very humane approach toward Hae as she's shown to the viewers as a sprightly, intelligent woman who values her freedom dearly.
The four-part film also repeatedly points to the inaccuracies in the testimony and recorded statements of star witness Jay Wild's — Adnan's schoolmate — whose account of the fateful day on January 13 marked Adnan's future in prison. In its quest to find the truth — by hiring personal detectives to revisit every step of the case — the film makes remarkable revelations on what might have influenced Wild's testimony or how it could have been orchestrated by the investigators themselves to pin a culprit under immense pressure from authorities above to increase the state's conviction rate.
The filmmakers also interview other eyewitnesses who partially backed Wild's account in the past but now appear uncertain on the accuracy of their statements made in court 20 years ago when faced with certain facts. The documentary, in the end, leaves the viewer feeling disappointed in the country's faltering criminal justice system and a lingering feeling that after all these years Hae somehow has not yet received her justice with the precise circumstances of the day of her death still uncertain, and Adnan being persecuted for it in absence of a fair trial.
Adnan's attorney, Justin Brown, in the wake of the fresh verdict on Monday, said that his family was "devastated" by the court's decision but they "will not give up on Adnan Syed."
"Our criminal justice system is desperately in need of reform. The obstacles to getting a new trial are simply too great,” Brown said. “There was a credible alibi witness who was with Adnan at the precise time of the murder and now the court of appeals has said that witness would not have affected the outcome of the proceeding. We think just the opposite is true. From the perspective of the defendant, there is no stronger evidence than an alibi witness.”
Adnan, who was incarcerated as a teenager and is currently serving a life sentence in prison, has never tried to come up with an alternate story to defend himself and has maintained his innocence till date.