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Maryland Prosecutors Are Standing Behind Their Conviction of 'Serial' Suspect Adnan Syed

Prosecutors urged a Maryland court to deny Adnan Syed's request for appeal on Wednesday, rejecting his claim that his lawyer was ineffective and didn't help him negotiate a plea deal.
January 14, 2015, 10:18pm
Photo via Flickr user Casey Fiesler

There's one last chance for Adnan Syed, the improbable star of the podcast Serial whose story has captivated NPR-loving American hearts and minds for months now, to overturn his murder conviction.

The only problem is the prosecutors with the state of Maryland who stand in the way.

For those who haven't been tuning into the hit podcast, Syed was convicted of murdering his high school ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, and has spent the last 15 years in prison, all the while maintaining his innocence. The show, which was created by the people behind This American Life, revived interest in his case by serializing 12 episodes worth of interviews and investigation. Lurking beneath the surface of this pop culture phenomenon has been the idea that the wave of fresh scrutiny might help Syed finally win his freedom.

But prosecutors urged a Maryland court to deny his request for appeal on Wednesday, rejecting Syed's claim that his lawyer was ineffective and didn't help him negotiate a plea deal.

Toward the end of the series, Serial creator Sarah Koenig enlisted the help of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Virginia Law School, and volunteers with the group told her that the evidence against Syed was shaky at best. (The Innocence Project has been pressuring the court to look at potential DNA evidence.) As Koenig illustrated, the state's case hinged upon the testimony of a single star witness: Jay Wilds, a local Balitmore pot dealer who testified that he helped Syed bury Lee's body.

Wilds now feels like he was demonized by the show and that Koenig was an advocate for Syed rather than an impartial reporter. He's not the only one who was unhappy with the case that Serial built: In interviews with the original prosecutor, Natasha Vargas-Cooper and Ken Silverstein of the Intercept have essentially argued that for all its gross flaws, the American criminal justice system nabbed the right man.

Syed's last-ditch appeal claimed that his now-deceased attorney didn't interview a schoolmate who might have given him an alibi, and that she didn't help him plea out to a lesser sentence for murder and kidnapping. But in a recommendation released Wednesday afternoon, Assistant Attorney General Edward J. Kelley wrote that there was no evidence that the court would have even accepted a plea deal. In other words Syed's attorney didn't help him secure a deal because no such offer was ever on the table.

Syed is now 34 years old and living in a West Maryland prison, where he is presumably the most famous inmate around. It's unclear when the court will rule on his appeal, but the man whose story has been listened to by millions is likely to see his last shot at redemption pass him by.

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