The wildly popular podcast “Serial” is over, but the real-life case continued Wednesday with prosecutors seeking to deny Adnan Syed’s Hail Mary attempt to appeal his murder conviction.
For those unfamiliar with “Serial,” Syed, 34, was convicted of strangling his high school ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in a Baltimore parking lot in 1999. He was quietly serving a life sentence while maintaining his innocence until radio reporter Sarah Koenig and a team of producers from “This American Life” delved into his case and created the spinoff “Serial.”
Over the course of 12 episodes, Koenig raised doubts about Syed’s guilt by highlighting inconsistencies in testimony of a key witness who said he helped bury Lee, and by questioning the performance of Syed’s attorney. No physical evidence links Syed to Lee’s slaying, and no witnesses saw the killing, but cellphone records ostensibly supported the prosecution’s case.
With standard court appeals exhausted, Syed’s defense turned to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals a year ago (before the podcast began) with an application for leave to appeal to win his release.
The defense, now led by C. Justin Brown, argued that Syed’s first attorney didn’t pursue a witness claiming to have seen Syed in the public library when prosecutors contended the murder took place. They also argued in the application that then-defense attorney Cristina Gutierrez failed in her responsibilities by not seeking a plea deal for her client.
Lawyers from the Maryland attorney general’s office on Wednesday responded to the application, arguing that Syed’s conviction should be upheld. (Read the state’s 23-page response below.)
The prosecutors wrote that Syed’s steadfast claims of innocence show he never truly wanted a plea deal, which would have required admitting guilt. They also wrote that it was “self-serving” of Syed to now complain that Gutierrez didn’t pursue a plea deal when there’s little evidence he wanted one.
“What the record shows is that [Syed] was totally satisfied with Gutierrez’s services until the jury returned an adverse verdict at the second trial,” the state said in the filing. Syed’s first trial ended in a mistrial.
Baltimore prosecutors never made overtures about a plea deal and there was no requirement that Gutierrez seek one, the attorney general’s office wrote.
“The failure to pursue a plea bargain, by itself, is not enough to engage the ineffectiveness of assistance test,” they wrote.
Gutierrez was disbarred in 2001 after clients’ money went missing. She died in 2004.
A judge ruled in September that the attorney general’s office did not have to address claims that Gutierrez neglected to pursue the alleged alibi witness.
Brown, Syed’s current attorney, didn’t respond to HuffPost’s inquiries.
The defense application is a measure of last resort, according to a statement from the Maryland Judiciary Office.
“An application for leave to appeal asks an appellate court to…