'Serial' star Syed adds to momentum for new trial

Adnan Syed, subject of “Serial,” received a major boost to his case for a new trial.

Adnan Syed's bid for a new trial gained more momentum Monday, when a state appeals court ruled an alibi witness should testify on behalf of the subject of the "Serial" podcast.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals told a lower court to consider hearing sworn testimony from Asia McClain, a high school classmate who has said she saw Syed at a public library at the time prosecutors believe he killed his ex-girlfriend.

McClain's testimony is to be used by the judges as they consider whether he deserves a new trial.

"This is what we wanted from the beginning," said C. Justin Brown, Syed's attorney. "It's the right thing to do. It's in the interest of justice that Asia McClain be allowed to testify in court."

Once-closed legal doors keep opening for Syed since "Serial" was released last year.

The podcast series, produced by former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, examined Syed's 2000 murder trial in the 1999 death of Hae Min Lee. An offshoot of the public radio series "This American Life," it has been downloaded more than 76 million times.

Syed was found guilty of killing Lee when both were seniors at Woodlawn High School, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Now 34, he remains in a Western Maryland prison.

Syed was convicted on the basis of cellphone records and the testimony of an acquaintance who said he helped him bury Lee's body in a shallow grave in Baltimore's Leakin Park.

Prosecutors found no witnesses to Lee's strangling or physical evidence linking Syed to the murder. In his appeals, Syed has argued that his trial lawyer was ineffective and did not explore obvious defenses, such as the alibi McClain could have provided.

The Court of Special Appeals agreed in February to hear his appeal of a lower cour ruling that denied his request for a new trial. Oral arguments are scheduled in June.

Syed has filed a supplement that included a sworn affidavit from McClain, saying she was willing to testify on Syed's behalf.

It is not known why Syed's trial attorney did not call McClain to testify. McClain has said a prosecutor dissuaded her from testifying in hearings where Syed challenged his conviction. The prosecutor, now a private lawyer, has denied the allegation.

McClain has said several times times in the last 16 years that she saw Syed at the Woodlawn branch public library near his high school on Jan. 13, 1999.

Jay Wilds, the witness who testified against Syed, has given conflicting accounts in court and to investigators. Syed's supporters say McClain is more credible.

"Asia McClain has been consistent," Brown said.

The Court of Special Appeals said Syed's Circuit Court challenge should be reopened to allow McClain to testify. Once she does, the court can use her testimony as it considers whether Syed deserves a new trial.

It's unclear whether the Circuit Court could reconsider its 2014 ruling that denied Syed a new trial based on McClain's testimony. McClain's testimony would be open to cross-examination.

Syed's legal team now has 45 days to file a motion in Baltimore Circuit Court asking for a hearing at which McClain can testify.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/justingeorge

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