BALTIMORE — Maryland's highest court on Thursday will hear arguments in the high-profile case of a man whose murder conviction was chronicled in the hit "Serial" podcast that attracted millions of armchair detectives.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in Adnan Syed's long-running case. He was convicted in 2000 of strangling his high school sweetheart and burying her body in Baltimore's Leakin Park. He's been serving a life sentence ever since.
But a Baltimore judge vacated his conviction two years ago 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.
Now, Maryland's top court is reviewing a decision that could reinstate Syed's conviction for the slaying of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee.
The court has granted the state the opportunity to make its arguments that Syed's trial lawyer, the late Cristina Gutierrez, was not ineffective and Syed's constitutional right to counsel was never violated. It granted Syed's legal team the chance to make its case touching on key cellphone evidence.
University of Baltimore law professor David Jaros said the fact that a court had found that there was "ineffective assistance of counsel" was itself remarkable since it happens so rarely. That alone makes Syed's case something of an outlier, he said.
"Ineffective assistance of counsel claims are exceedingly hard to bring. And the bar for what is an effective assistance of counsel is remarkably and shockingly low, with courts actually holding that defendants had effective representation even though their lawyer fell asleep at the trial," Jaros said in a phone interview.
But what also makes Syed's case 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 the entirety of its 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.