Media critic David Zurawik talks about how media influenced the process that led to Adnan Syed's request for a new trial that was granted by Judge Martin Welch. (Emma Patti Harris/Baltimore Sun video)
The news today of a Baltimore judge granting Adnan Syed's request for a new trial makes what was already a remarkable story even more of a media juggernaut.
Today's judicial action reported for The Sun by Justin Fenton makes me think that before all is said and done in this case, we might have to go back to 1983 and the CBS "60 Minutes" report by Morley Safer, which freed African-American engineer Lenell Geter, to find media coverage that had a comparable impact.
Geter had been unjustly convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to life in a Texas prison before "60 Minutes" reviewed the case, finding new evidence and problems with the trial.
But it was such a profoundly different media landscape then.
Much has been made of the 2014 public radio podcast "Serial," which revisited Syed's case. Its 130 million downloads has helped ignite a true crime trend that includes HBO's "The Jinx: The Life and Death of Robert Durst" and "Making a Murderer" on Netflix.
"Serial" deserves all the praise it gets. Ditto for host Sarah Koenig.
But it was evidence produced by "Undisclosed," a podcast by Rabia Chaudry, the Maryland attorney and family friend of Syed who brought the case to Koenig's attention, that Judge Marvin Welch cited in his ruling today.
Welch said Syed's trial attorney "rendered ineffective assistance when she failed to cross-examine the state's expert regarding the reliability of cell tower evidence."
At issue is how accurate cellphone call data was in determining a caller's location with the technology available in 2000, when Syed was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and Woodlawn High School classmate, Hae Min Lee. The evidence found by one of the producers on "Undisclosed" and revealed in a hearing in February showed that such data was not reliable when it came to incoming calls.
There is no shortage of media angles — from the way some audience members became online researchers for Syed's defense, to the book Chaudry will be publishing Aug. 9 with St. Martin Press, "Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After 'Serial.'"