On 25th February 2000, Adnan Syed was convicted for the murder of his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, a year after her body had been found partially buried in a park in their hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.
In the 19 years since, Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and childhood friend of Syed’s, has publicly fought for him throughout his various legal appeals.
Chaudry was the person who first brought Syed’s case to the attention of reporter Sarah Koenig, resulting in the hit 2014 podcast Serial.
She is also a key figure in a new documentary about the case, Sky and HBO’s four-part series The Case Against Adnan Syed, which follows efforts to overturn Syed’s conviction in the years since the podcast’s release.
However, on 8th March 2019, these efforts suffered a significant setback: Maryland’s highest court denied Syed the new trial he had been granted a year earlier.
It was, Chaudry says, “a huge blow” to their hopes of exonerating Syed. However, she tells RadioTimes.com that “at no point” did she consider it the end of the legal battle.
“There are people who have been exonerated after 40 years in prison. There are men who have been exonerated in their 70s because they finally had a breakthrough,” she says. “You never know what evidence will come forward even decades later.”
Chaudry explains that she and Syed are now exploring what their next steps should be.
“Now we’re regrouping and we’re going to be asking this court to reconsider their decision,” she says. “We’re going to file a petition to the Supreme Court of the United States, but there are also three or four other legal avenues we can take. But it will take years probably, unless something dramatic happens, like a confession. Unless that happens, we’re talking three, four, five more years.”
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The Serial podcast re-examined the evidence from the original investigation and explored the question of whether Syed had received a fair trial. It highlighted, for example, that a classmate of Syed, who potentially could have been called as an alibi witness, was never asked to give evidence.
In March 2018, an appeals panel granted Syed a retrial on the basis that he had had ineffective legal counsel. However, this decision has now been reversed by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Chaudry says that she has been heartened by the way in which people have moved from casual listeners of Serial to become much more engaged in the legal process.
“I remember when it came out people thought it was like fiction. And I was like, ‘I don’t want people’s interest to wane, I wanted to take advantage of the momentum’. So I spent a lot of time in the last four years continuing to write and speak and tweet about it,” she says.
“The truth is that it is the door that is allowing people to come in and get to know the people and get to understand the issues. People might initially engage with the story and say, ‘It’s a murder mystery, a whodunnit, is he a psychopath or a wonderful person?’
“But then they’re like, ‘Oh, OK, I’m understanding how prosecutorial misconduct works now. I’m understanding how Brady violations [a rule, outlined by the US Supreme Court, obliging the prosecution to hand over all exculpatory evidence to the defence] work. I’m understanding how police misconduct works.’
“You have to have some reason for people to want to understand the issues and these people. So to me, it’s OK that it’s entertaining, it’s useful that it’s entertaining. It’s good.”
This, she argues, is the benefit that comes with viewers and listeners’ obsession with true crime documentaries.
“It’s hard to get the general public interested in serious issues if they’re not personally attached to those issues. Why would they even care?” she says. “I’ve seen people go from casual interest to being really deeply involved: committed and donating, spreading awareness. They’re moving through that whole journey with us.”
The Case Against Adnan Syed will be released from 1st April on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV