Adnan Syed’s Attorneys Ask U.S. Supreme Court To Hear ‘Serial’ Case

August 20, 2019by Colin Campbell
Officials escort "Serial" podcast subject Adnan Syed from the courthouse on Feb. 3, 2016, following the completion of the first day of hearings for a retrial in Baltimore, Md. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

BALTIMORE — Attorneys for Adnan Syed, the subject of the “Serial” podcast, are trying to take his case to the Supreme Court.

The petition, filed Monday after an extended deadline, asks the justices to reverse a ruling by Maryland’s highest court. It had refused to grant a new trial to Syed, who was convicted in the 2000 of killing of Hae Min Lee, his ex-girlfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High School in western Baltimore County, and has been serving a life sentence.

The odds of the justices hearing the case are slim. Of the more than 7,000 cases petitioned to the Supreme Court each year, the court takes up an average of only 2 percent.

In the petition, Syed’s attorneys call the case “eye-catching” and note that it has inspired podcasts, a documentary and countless news stories. But the crux, they say, is poor counsel they claim was provided by Syed’s trial attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, who is deceased, and her failure to call alibi witness Asia McClain.

“This petition, however, is about a straightforward legal issue: the proper standard for evaluating prejudice under this Court’s decision in Strickland v. Washington,” the attorneys wrote, referring to a 1984 Supreme Court ruling on ineffective counsel.

At least 10 state and federal courts have approached the topic by comparing “the case that the State actually presented at trial with the case that the defendant would have presented if his attorney had been effective,” Syed’s attorneys wrote.

“Under this majority approach, Gutierrez’s deficient performance prejudiced Syed,” his attorneys wrote. “The case that Syed would have presented at trial had his counsel been effective included testimony from McClain, who testified in post-conviction proceedings that she spoke with Syed at the library during the exact time that the State alleged Lee was killed.”

The argument has value separate from the public interest in Syed’s case, said C. Justin Brown, who is representing Syed along with Catherine E. Stetson and other lawyers from the Washington-based law firm Hogan Lovells.

“It’s an important issue, and it’s something that divides courts around the country,” he said.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ordered Syed’s conviction tossed out last year. But the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, decided in March that Syed should not receive a new trial and reinstated his murder conviction in the 1999 killing of Lee after prosecutors appealed the lower court’s decision.

The Maryland Attorney General’s office, which argued against a new trial for Syed as the case wound its way through the state courts, declined to comment.

Syed’s family is staying positive, his attorney said.

“This has been a tough road for my client and his family but they have not given up hope,” Brown said.

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©2019 The Baltimore Sun

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