Serial’s convicted killer Adnan Syed wins breakthrough in quest for retrial

The convicted killer at the centre of the hugely popular podcast is set to be allowed to call key alibi witness Asia McClain, who has never before testified

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If you’re a fan of Serial, you’ll know the name Asia McClain very well. Throughout the hit podcast about the real-life murder trial of Hae Min Lee, McClain was the missing piece in the defence’s case for convicted killer Adnan Syed’s innocence. 

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And McClain could now be allowed to take the stand in Syed’s defence for the first time, after the US Court of Special Appeal handed down a ruling which grants Syed’s case a new hearing in his pursuit of a retrial. 

Syed was convicted in 2000 of murdering his ex-girlfriend Lee and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2014 the case came under fresh scrutiny after it was made the subject of the hugely popular podcast Serial.

The podcast featured an interview with potential alibi witness McClain. McClain said in an affidavit that she was in a library with Syed when his girlfriend Hae Min Lee was killed.

McClain also claimed in the interview that she was never contacted by Adnan’s defence lawyer, which means the jury never heard her testimony. She also claimed she was actively discouraged by prosecutors from attending any post-conviction hearings.

Syed’s attorney at the time, Christina Gutierrez, never called McClain as a witness and did not seek a plea deal for Syed despite his request that she inquire about the possibility. The current defence lawyer, Justin Brown, said he was pleased with the recent ruling which opens the door for McClain’s testimony to be heard.

So, how could this step towards an alibi from McClain affect Syed getting a new trial? The appeals court’s order does not guarantee that McClain will be allowed to testify. Instead, it states that Syed may file a request with the Baltimore circuit court to ask whether McClain may be allowed to take the stand in his defence.  The appeals court will then decide if this can go ahead.  

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It’s a small step, but it looks like the aftermath of Serial is as complex and fascinating as the podcast itself…