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'Serial' figure headed to court after request for hearing granted

Convicted murderer Adnan Syed, of "Serial" fame, is headed to court after judge grants hearing request

Adnan Syed, the convicted murderer whose case gained international attention after questions were raised on the widely downloaded "Serial" podcast, will get another day in court.

A Baltimore circuit judge on Friday granted Syed's request for a hearing, at which Syed's lawyers ares expected to present an alibi witness and raise questions about cellphone evidence in the case. Retired Judge Martin Welch said the hearing would "be in the interests of justice."

A date has not been scheduled.

"This is obviously a huge step forward for Adnan," said his attorney, C. Justin Brown. "We look forward to our day in court."

The Maryland attorney general's office, which has been opposing Syed's request, declined to comment.

Syed was convicted in 2000 of killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, a Woodlawn High School classmate. He is serving a life sentence.

The case became the subject of "Serial," a 12-episode podcast and offshoot of the "This American Life" public radio program, which revisited the evidence and Syed's defense in the case. It was downloaded millions of times, setting records for a podcast and creating a groundswell of support for a new trial.

With Friday's decision, that is one step closer to happening.

Prosecutors, who presented no physical evidence or eyewitness tying Syed to the killing, relied heavily on the testimony of Jay Wilds, an acquaintance who said he helped Syed bury the body in Baltimore's Leakin Park. The prosecutor who handled the case said the testimony, along with phone records tying Syed to the area, created a strong case.

After Syed's arrest, Asia McClain, a Woodlawn classmate, wrote letters to him in jail, saying she had seen him in a public library on the day Lee was killed.

The Court of Special Appeals agreed in February to hear Syed's appeal of a lower court ruling that denied his request for a new trial. The court said in May that McClain should be allowed to testify, so her statements could be considered in deliberations on whether Syed deserves a new trial.

The appeals court called on the Baltimore Circuit Court to reopen Syed's post-conviction hearings so McClain's testimony could be taken.

Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, who himself attended Woodlawn High School in the early 1990s, previously called the request "meritless" and "inconsequential theater and not in the interest of justice."

In making his case for Syed, Brown also put forward for the first time a fax cover sheet from AT&T in which the phone company raised questions about the reliability of technology at the time to pinpoint the location of a phone.

Brown obtained an affidvait from the state's expert witness regarding phone technology, who said he would have wanted to know about the disclaimer on the fax cover sheet and it could have changed his testimony.

Welch found that both issues could be argued, to consider whether there was prosecutorial misconduct.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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