Md. AG Files Response in Adnan Syed's Petition for New Trial

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on May 07, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After the wild success of the "Serial" podcast, Adnan Syed, convicted in 2000 of the murder of former girlfriend and fellow high school student Hae Min Lee, was granted a new appeal by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Actually, the appeal was in progress before the podcast series began, but interviews conducted by reporters for "Serial" led to the discovery of more evidence on appeal that Syed contends his lawyer should have introduced.

Adnan's Argument: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Syed's arguments involve ineffective assistance of his trial counsel, Christina Gutierrez, who he claimed failed either to investigate a potential alibi witness and who failed to ask for a plea deal.

On the date of the murder, a classmate named Asia McLain wrote to Syed in jail to say that she remembered seeing him in the city library at the time the prosecution claimed he was murdering Lee. Syed asked Gutierrez to investigate, but she responded that "nothing came of it." As it turns out, Gutierrez never contacted Asia.

Additionally, Syed asked Gutierrez to ask about a plea deal with the prosecution, but she told him that there was no deal offered. In fact, Gutierrez had never even asked the prosecution about a plea deal.

The Attorney General Responds

Yesterday, the state attorney general filed his brief in response. The attorney general dismissed the letter from Asia McLain as immaterial, arguing that she never specified when she claimed to see him in the library or why she recalled seeing him on that day, in particular. Nor, the AG argued, did Syed ever make anyone aware of Asia McLain's existence until after he had been convicted.

And even if Asia's alibi had been investigated, said the AG, her testimony would have duplicated the testimony of 80 other alibi witnesses who all claimed Adnan was, or would have been, at school during the time of the murder.

(Professor Colin Miller of EvidenceProf Blog brings up an accusation made by Asia that the trial prosecutor may have lied to her or dissuaded her from testifying. The AG addresses this contention in a footnote, to which Miller responds, citing his years of as an appellate attorney in the New York court system, "I can't remember a single case in which there such a trite response to an argument made in the opposing party's brief.")

Perhaps more detrimental to Syed's appeal is the AG's response to his second claim. While Syed said that he had asked Gutierrez to ask about a plea bargain, the prosecutors in the original case testified that they had never offered one or contemplated offering one, and, indeed, wouldn't have offered one, anyway. It was also hard for Syed to overlook the apparent inconsistency in his asking for a plea deal even though he insisted through the whole trial (and still does to this day) that he was innocent.

Not the End of the Line

Of course, much of what Gutierrez did or didn't do, or why she did what she did, remains speculative. She died of a heart attack in 2004.

This isn't the end of Syed's case, though. The Innocence Project at the University of Virginia law school is working on getting evidence tested for DNA to determine whether another person -- known for killing young women in the area at about the same time -- could be the murderer.

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