A Maryland court on Monday ruled that Adnan Syed, whose murder conviction was documented in the popular Serial podcast, will be able to again petition for post-conviction relief, paving the way for new witness testimony on a possible alibi.
Syed, who was jailed as a teenager in 2000 for the killing of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, had originally petitioned the the Baltimore City Circuit Court for "post-conviction relief" in 2010, but his request was rejected in January 2014. Post-conviction relief is sought by petitioners when they exhaust direct legal appeals.
But on Monday, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals remanded Syed's case back to the circuit court so he could petition once more for relief against his sentence of life imprisonment. The decision was made in light of a January 2015 affidavit from Asia McClain, a former classmate at Baltimore's Woodlawn High School who claimed to have seen Syed in a local library at the time prosecutors said he killed Lee.
McClain was never pursued by Syed's trial lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, whom Syed also alleges failed to properly represent him by not seeking a plea deal with prosecutors. Based on those two grounds, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals in February granted Syed leave to appeal against his conviction, but on Monday stayed this appeal, pending his fresh application to the circuit court.
"We believe that a stay of this appeal and a limited remand to the circuit court is in the interest of justice," Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser wrote in his order.
If it takes up his petition for post-conviction relief, the Baltimore City Circuit Court could reverse Syed's conviction, order a new trial, or reduce his sentence.
Rabia Chaudry, a friend of Syed's who has long proclaimed his innocence, told BuzzFeed News she was "thrilled" and "in shock" over the court's decision.
"This is pretty much what we wanted. We were going into oral arguments next month [in Maryland's Court of Special Appeals] for this result," Chaudry said. "This is totally a bit of a shock. You expect to have the arguments, to wait six months or a year for a ruling, and see where that goes, but this means we've pretty much bypassed all that."
Chaudry said McClain's evidence was "incredibly important" to Syed's case as it provided him with a strong alibi.
"All we've ever wanted is for Asia to get a chance to testify and for her testimony to be taken seriously as an alibi witness," Chaudry said. "She has consistently told the same story for 16 years."
McLain made contact with Syed immediately after his arrest to share her recollection of the day of the murder, Jan. 13, 1999, but she was never contacted by Gutierrez.
"Had Asia appeared, that would have been the end of the state's case," Chaudry said.
She added that she was unsure whether Syed was aware of the court's order because his loved ones must wait for him to call them from prison. However, she said Syed has access to a television and expected he might learn of the developments by watching Monday afternoon news reports.