The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied the request of attorneys to hear an appeal of imprisoned “Serial” podcast subject Adnan Syed.
The 39-year-old Woodlawn man has been serving a life sentence since 2000, when he was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, the year before. The case became the subject of “Serial,” a 12-episode podcast from 2014 that revisited the evidence and Syed’s defense in the trial.
“We’re deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court is not taking this case,” said C. Justin Brown, Syed’s attorney, “but by no means is this the end."
Brown said legal options remain available to Syed’s defense team. He declined to say what will come next.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh had urged the justices to reject the bid from Syed’s defense team. Frosh’s office argued in state court to uphold the conviction.
“The evidence against Mr. Syed was overwhelming,” Frosh said in a statement Monday. “We remain confident in the verdict that was delivered by the jury and are pleased that justice for Hae Min Lee has been done.”
Rabia Chaudry, an attorney, friend and advocate for Syed, directed a message on Twitter to Frosh.
“We will see you in Federal court,” she wrote.
The record-breaking podcast created a groundswell of support for a new trial. A Baltimore circuit judge in 2015 granted Syed’s request for a hearing, at which testimony was presented from an alibi witness who was featured in “Serial.” Retired Judge Martin Welch, who had denied Syed’s previous request for a new trial, vacated Syed’s conviction in June 2016 and ordered a new trial.
The Maryland attorney general’s office appealed Welch’s ruling in August 2016. In March 2018, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals upheld Welch’s ruling. However, the Maryland Court of Appeals this past March decided to deny Syed a new trial and reinstated his conviction. Maryland’s highest court determined his initial trial was deficient after Syed’s attorney failed to follow up with the witness who was later featured in “Serial," but it ruled the evidence against Syed was still strong and the court had not prejudiced Syed.
Syed’s lawyers filed a petition with the Supreme Court in August amid the ongoing public support for a new trial.
Monday’s decision from the nation’s highest court adds a new chapter to the public debate on Syed’s factual innocence or guilt.
In declining to hear the case, the justices closed the door on the arguments Syed’s attorneys have made in the appeals thus far, including that his trial attorney was ineffective by not calling McClain to testify, said Adam L. Van Grack, an appellate attorney and managing member at Longman & Van Grack who is not involved with the case.
“There could be another protest or reopening of the case in a lower court,” Van Grack said. "[But] it’s the end of the line on these issues.”
David Jaros, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, said Syed has another option: seeking a pardon from the governor.
“The window for Mr. Syed to have his conviction overturned appears to be closing," Jaros said. “It may be that the focus will increasingly become a pitch for clemency in light of concerns about integrity of the conviction and the fact he was very young when crime was committed. We never want to rule out the possibility of rehabilitation, particularly when it involves a defendant who was so young.”
Gov. Larry Hogan’s office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Chaudry, author of “Adnan’s Story,” and the catalyst behind former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig’s first season of “Serial,” has told The Sun she believes Syed’s Muslim heritage blinded police and prosecutors to the errors in their investigation.
Syed has argued his trial lawyer failed him by not calling an alibi witness, Asia McClain. She claimed to have seen Syed in the Woodlawn public library during the time of Hae Min Lee’s murder.
Syed was convicted after a witness, Jay Wilds, said he helped Syed bury her body. Wilds’ testimony has been questioned over the years, and most recently, documentary filmmakers have said Wilds spoke to them and offered an account of the crime that was different from what he told police.
More than 7,000 cases are petitioned to the Supreme Court each year, but justices take up only about 2%.
Reporters Tim Prudente and Colin Campbell contributed to this article.