Maryland’s highest court on Friday has denied, a retrial to Adnan Syed, whose murder trial was featured in the 2014 podcast Serial.
He was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of strangling 17-year-old Hae Min Lee, who was his former girlfriend, and burying her body in a Baltimore park in 1999.
Syed, now 38, became the subject of worldwide attention when the popular podcast, which was downloaded tens of millions of times, shined a light on new evidence in his case.
On Friday, the Maryland Court of Appeals reinstated the original murder conviction after a lower court ruled to grant a new trial because of evidence that he had received an ineffective defence.
Syed’s current lawyers argued that his initial defence attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, failed to investigate claims that a friend, Asia McClain, saw Syed in a public library around the time that prosecutors said he strangled Lee. Gutierrez died in 2004.
In a 4-3 vote, judges agreed that Gutierrez had failed to investigate the alibi witness thoroughly. Even so, it decided that the rest of the evidence weighed heavily enough against Syed that the alibi witness would not have swayed the jury to find him innocent.
“Given the totality of the evidence the jury heard, we conclude that there is not a significant or substantial possibility that the verdict would have been different had trial counsel presented McClain as an alibi witness,” the majority opinion said.
His lawyer Justin Brown said in a statement that the defence team was devastated by the Court of Appeals decision but would not give up on Syed’s case.
Syed’s current lawyers have argued that Gutierrez had an obligation to pursue the alibi, which they believe could have swayed the case.
“From the perspective of the defendant, there is no stronger evidence than an alibi witness,” Brown said on Friday.
Before the 1999 trial, the defence claims that Syed asked Gutierrez if she had reached out to Asia McClain, to which Gutierrez responded that nothing had come of it.
McClain said in an affidavit she had seen Syed in Baltimore’s Woodlawn Public Library around the time prosecutors say he strangled Lee.
A Baltimore judge in 2016 vacated Syed’s conviction. That ruling set the stage for a possible new trial, which has been delayed by state prosecutors’ appeals.
The state Court of Special Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision in favour of a new trial earlier this year.
The state appealed that ruling a second time on the grounds that the lower court was wrong to find that Syed previously had an ineffective defence counsel.