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Maryland Appeals Court Upholds Conviction of ‘Serial’ Subject Adnan Syed

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Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images, File

Maryland's highest court ruled Friday that Adnan Syed, the subject of the world-famous "Serial" podcast, will not be granted a new trial after he was convicted of killing his high school classmate Hae Min Lee 20 years ago.

In a 4-3 vote, the Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that Syed's legal counsel was "deficient" but said that did not prejudice Syed, The Baltimore Sun reported.

The court ruled that Syed had waived his claim of ineffectual counsel.

Syed's lawyer, Justin Brown, said he and Syed were "devastated" by the decision but would not give up.

"There was a credible alibi witness who was with Adnan at the precise time of the murder and now the Court of Appeals has said that witness would not have affected the outcome of the proceeding," Brown said in a statement. "We think just the opposite is true. From the perspective of the defendant, there is no stronger evidence than an alibi witness."

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said he was pleased with the court's decision. 

"Justice was done for Hae Min Lee and her family," he said in a statement. 

Go here to read the court's full decision

Syed was convicted in 2000 of strangling his former girlfriend and burying her body in a Baltimore park. He's been serving a life sentence ever since.

A Baltimore judge vacated his conviction in 2016, and a court ordered a new trial after concluding that his trial lawyer was ineffective. The state appealed. Earlier this year, the special appeals court upheld the lower court's ruling. The state appealed that decision, too.

In November, state prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah acknowledged that the late trial lawyer for Syed did not contact an alibi witness but asserted that the attorney understood the "gist" of what that witness, Asia McClain, might have told her at the time. The attorney in question, Cristina Gutierrez, died of a heart attack in 2004, about four years after Syed was convicted of murdering Lee, who was 18. 

"The record is not silent on whether or not Ms. McClain was contacted. The state agrees with that. The record is silent on the critical question of why," he said, suggesting that it is not clear why Gutierrez decided to take one investigative path over another. 

In 2016, a lower court ordered a retrial for Syed on grounds that Gutierrez didn't contact McClain and provided ineffective counsel.

The defense team countered that it's entirely irrelevant why Gutierrez failed to contact McClain, who said she saw Syed at a library about the same time prosecutors say his ex-girlfriend was killed in 1999.

What makes Syed's case particularly notable is the huge amount of attention it has received. Syed became a sort of cause celebre due to the hugely popular "Serial" podcast, which debuted in 2014 with its entire first season dedicated to the case.

The show shattered podcast-streaming and downloading records. "Serial" revealed little-known evidence, raising new questions about the case and whether Syed was indeed guilty.

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