The Chatter

Serial’s Adnan Syed Begins Appeal Process

New briefing outlines argument for overturning life sentence.

This morning, Adnan Syed’s legal team filed a 31-page brief outlining its argument for a new trial for Syed, the incarcerated subject of the Serial podcast, who is serving a life sentence for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Woodlawn High School senior Hae Min Lee. The action formally begins the appeal process that is seen as Syed’s last, best hope for overturning his conviction.

In the briefing, Syed’s attorney, C. Justin Brown, asserts that Syed’s lawyer, M. Christina Gutierrez, failed to pursue evidence that could have resulted in Syed’s acquittal. Those who listened to Serial, the phenomenally popular true-crime podcast that detailed the initial investigation and trials of Syed, will recognize this overlooked evidence as the sworn alibi of Asia McLain, Syed’s acquaintance who says she was with Syed in the Woodlawn Public Library during the window of time the state believes the murder took place. As covered in the podcast, McLain wrote two letters to Syed after he was arrested for the murder of Lee in early 1999. In them, she volunteers an alibi for Syed. For unknown reasons, Gutierrez never pursued McLain as a defense witness. (Gutierrez died of a heart attack in 2003, two years after being disbarred.)

Today’s briefing further argues that Gutierrez ignored her client’s interest in a plea deal, telling Syed that a deal wasn’t an option, even though it has been established that Gutierrez never even approached prosecutors about a plea.

The Sun has a lengthy article on the intricacies of the appeal process here. One important legal point, noted in The Sun‘s piece, is that the brief is simply concerned with the competency of Gutierrez’s defense of Syed. It is not arguing to introduce new information unearthed during the 12-episode podcast or subsequent media interviews, such as the inconsistent memories of Jay Wilds, Syed’s school friend who admits to helping Syed bury Lee’s body in Leakin Park and who testified for the prosecution during the trial.