The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of Adnan Syed, who in 2000 was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, a case that became a national news story after producers of the 2014 podcast “Serial” dug through the details and raised questions about Syed’s guilt.
Through the lengthy appeals process, Syed’s attorney, C. Justin Brown, contended there should be a retrial because his client’s representation in the murder case, Cristina Gutierrez, did not properly investigate Syed’s alibi.
A witness, Asia McClain, a classmate of Syed’s at Woodlawn High School, said she would testify she talked with him near the library at school at the time prosecutors said Lee was killed. Because the lawyer at the time never looked into this witness, his current representatives argued, Syed’s Sixth Amendment right to an attorney was violated.
But the state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, reversed that ruling in a 4-3 vote, reinstating Syed’s conviction and life sentence. The Supreme Court justices apparently saw no reason to hear an appeal of that decision.
As Bloomberg Law notes, the 1984 Supreme Court decision Strickland v. Washington establishes a two-step process for determining if counsel was insufficient: was it faulty, and if so, did that prejudice the defendant.
The state of Maryland has contended McClain’s testimony would only change the timeline of the murder, not Syed’s guilt.
Lee’s buried body was found in Baltimore’s Leakin Park in February 1999, almost a whole month after she had been reported missing. Prosecutors argued Syed strangled he in the parking lot of a Best Buy and later buried Lee’s body with the help of a friend.
That friend, Jay Wilds, told police Syed showed him Lee’s body, and that he also helped Syed ditch Lee’s car in Baltimore. But Syed’s supporters have pointed out various inconsistencies in Wilds’ account, including the site of where he was shown the body.
In a new documentary that came out earlier this year, “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” Wilds released a statement saying he was coached by police to say Syed showed him the body at the Best Buy parking lot, not a spot off Edmonson off Edmondson Avenue, as he had originally stated.
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