BALTIMORE (AP) — For years, Adnan Syed sat behind bars serving a life sentence in the 1999 killing of his high school sweetheart, with little hope of ever getting out.
But then, in 2014, a new podcast called “Serial” delved into his case, casting doubt on his guilt and inspiring armchair investigators to unearth new information. “Serial” attracted millions of listeners and shattered records for the number of times a podcast had been streamed or downloaded.
Four years later, Syed is still reaping the benefits of the attention generated by the podcast. On Thursday, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ordered a new trial for Syed, upholding a 2016 lower court ruling.
Prosecutors can still appeal the ruling to the state’s highest court.
But Syed’s lawyer said he and Syed are savoring the victory and believe they have a strong chance of prevailing.
“If the state is so confident in their case, and if they’re so confident that Syed is guilty, they should just try the case. We’re ready to try the case,” Brown said.
“If we get back in court for a jury trial, we like our chances. We like them a lot,” he said.
Syed was convicted in 2000 of killing Hae Min Lee and burying her body in a shallow grave in a Baltimore park. He was 17 at the time.
During Syed’s trial, prosecutors said Syed killed Mae after she broke off their relationship.
Brown readily acknowledges that “Serial” has had a huge impact on the case.
In its ruling Thursday, the appeals court found that Syed’s trial lawyer was ineffective for failing to investigate and contact Asia McClain, a potential alibi witness who said she saw Syed at a public library in Woodlawn, Maryland, around the time the state claimed Syed killed Hae.
Brown said it was the attention generated by “Serial” that helped Syed’s defense team locate McClain and bring her to Baltimore for a post-conviction hearing.
He said “Serial” also helped build a groundswell of support for Syed, “and that has really fueled these efforts and allowed us to keep fighting on the way that we have.”
The three-judge panel said in its written decision that if testimony from McClain had been presented to the jury, it would have “directly contradicted the State’s theory of when Syed had the opportunity and did murder Hae,” and could have created reasonable doubt in at least one juror’s mind and led to a different outcome.
Prosecutors declined to comment or to say whether they will appeal the ruling to the state’s highest court.
“We are currently reviewing today’s decision to determine next steps,” Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, said in an email.
During a hearing in June, Thiru Vignarajah, a special assistant attorney general arguing on behalf of the state, said it was reasonable not to seek out McClain because Syed’s lawyer was focused on an alibi placing him at Woodlawn High School, not the library.
Syed has been behind bars since his arrest in February 1999.
Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie contributed to this report from Richmond.