Judge Orders New Trial for Adnan Syed
Last week, when I saw the news that Judge Martin P. Welch granted Adnan a new trial, I happened to be on Skype with our Executive Producer Julie Snyder, and both of us did exactly the same involuntary thing of sucking in our breath and then putting our hands over our mouths. We weren’t so much shocked because of the legal arguments, but because it was such a longshot, this outcome.
I just looked up my very first taped conversation with Adnan. It was two and a half years ago. A couple of days before we spoke, Adnan had gotten word of Judge Welch’s previous decision. Adnan had first petitioned for post-conviction relief in 2010, arguing, among other things, that he’d received ineffective assistance of counsel from his then-attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, based mostly on the Asia McClain issue. He waited three and a half years for Welch’s opinion. The judge’s order finally came at the very end of December, 2013: Denied. In our first conversation, that’s what Adnan and I talked about—Welch’s decision.
At the time, it seemed to me Adnan was spinning optimistic. Possibly falsely so. I mean, his legal options, by any clear-eyed assessment, were moribund. And yet Adnan struck this familiar jailhouse posture: ‘If only someone would take another look…’
Since that call, many people—reporters, attorneys, detectives, technical and legal experts—have taken another look. And in a 58-page opinion released June 30, boy oh boy did Judge Welch take another look. To reduce his conclusion to one line: Welch found that Gutierrez’s cross-examination of the state’s cell phone expert at trial was so deeply deficient, and her deficiency so avoidable if only she’d employed the twin virtues of reading comprehension and attention to detail, that Adnan’s convictions should be vacated, and he should be granted a new trial.
(This particular problem, by the way, was not brought to light because of Serial’s reporting. It was discovered by attorney Susan Simpson, working with the Undisclosed podcast started by Rabia Chaudry. She tracked down the cell phone expert who testified in Adnan’s trial, and found out he was unable to stand by his crucial trial testimony from back in 2000.)
Judge Welch’s opinion is below, if you want to read it. For anyone interested in both the factual and legal weeds of this thing, I highly recommend it. It’s lively and, to me, fascinating (especially when you contrast it to Welch’s earlier, sleepier opinion, here).
The Maryland attorney general’s office released a statement saying Hae Min Lee’s family was “very disappointed” by Judge Welch’s decision, that they believe Adnan’s conviction for killing Hae was just. The statement says: “We continue to grieve.” I can only imagine that’s an understatement.
The state is likely to appeal this order for a new trial. It has 30 days to respond. In the meantime, Adnan’s attorney, Justin Brown, says he’ll seek bail for Adnan. Presumably Adnan would like to await the next round—and there will be many next rounds—outside of prison.