State intends to fight new trial ruling for Adnan Syed of 'Serial'

State intends to fight new trial ruling for Adnan Syed of "Serial"

Maryland's attorney general intends to fight the ruling that granted a new trial for "Serial" podcast subject Adnan Syed, according to a document filed last week in the case.

The state formally notified the court of its intentions Thursday and asked that any new trial proceedings be halted as that process plays out. An appeal could push the possibility of a retrial back several months or longer, experts have said.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office declined to comment on the new filing, which is not the appeal itself. The office had previously hinted at its intent to appeal and has until next Monday to file it.

Syed's attorney, Justin Brown, declined to comment Monday.

Syed has been serving a life sentence since 2000 when he was convicted of killing ex-girlfriend and former Woodlawn High School classmate Hae Min Lee.

After years of failed appeals, Syed's case gained international attention when it was featured in the "Serial" podcast. "Serial," along with an offshoot podcast called "Undisclosed" that further probed the case, raised questions that helped mount a successful effort to overturn his conviction.

After a hearing in 2014, Judge Martin P. Welch initially denied Syed's request for a new trial. Syed's attorneys appealed that denial to the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland's second-highest court, citing a potential alibi witness whose testimony the defense said should have been considered.

The appellate court handed the case back to Welch to explore the alibi issue, but Welch used his discretion to allow additional testimony about a dispute over cellphone tower evidence.

Syed's conviction was based in part on testimony from a friend who said he helped Syed bury Lee's body, along with cellphone tower evidence linking Syed's phone to the area. The cellphone technician who testified at Syed's trial questioned his original testimony, based on the discovery of a document that raised concerns about the reliability of the technology at the time.

While the alibi witness, the original reason for reopening the postconviction proceedings, did not sway Welch, the judge said Syed's trial counsel should have pressed the cellphone issue and determined that he received ineffective counsel. Welch then vacated the conviction.

Experts have said the appellate court process could take months, and the losing side could ask the state's highest court to intervene. If Welch's decision is affirmed, only then would the lengthy process of holding a new trial begin.

The Maryland attorney general's office said after Welch's ruling that it would "defend what it believes is a valid conviction."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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