It feels like another life, but it was almost two years ago to the day that the first season of the breakout podcast Serial came to a close. The podcast ensnared millions of us in the murder mystery of Hae Min Lee and her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed. It brought under the microscope not just Syed's story but the entire criminal judicial system, and gave a shot in the arm to Syed's quest for freedom. But many are wondering now, two years following the end of Serial, where is Adnan Syed now? He's still in prison, but things are looking up for him.
In July, Judge Martin P. Welch overturned Syed's conviction and granted him a new trial, finding that his attorney at the time, Cristina Gutierrez, had made several grave missteps in her case, amounting to a violation of Syed's right to effective counsel. Specifically, Judge Welch noted that Gutierrez did not cross-examining the state's cell phone expert. That testimony was used to place Syed near the scene of the crime, and helped lead to his conviction back in 2000; Syed's advocates have argued that the evidence was faulty.
But ordering a new trial is not the same as dismissing the charges, and currently, Syed remains an inmate in the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland. In October, his lawyers petitioned that he be granted a bail hearing so he can be released while he awaits a new trial, but the state has filed its opposition to such a hearing.
"Syed has spent 17 years in prison based on an unconstitutional conviction for a crime he did not commit," Syed's lead defense attorney, C. Justin Brown, said in a statement. "It is unconscionable that he is still in prison."
However, the state attorney general's office opposes the measure, saying that Syed "remains a convicted murderer and kidnapper and continues to serve his sentence of life in prison."
Much of the maneuvering by the state to keep Syed in prison is apparently tactical, according to a Rolling Stone piece by Amelia McDonnell-Parry. She wrote, "it's in [the state's] interests to delay any resolution by dragging on the appeals process, because it gives them the chance to win and have Welch's decision to overturn Syed's conviction thrown out. But even if the state anticipates losing this appeal, delaying a resolution gives them an upper hand in future plea negotiations." By delaying the retrial as long as possible, they put pressure on Syed to take what's called an "Alford plea," which would allow him to assert his innocence while agreeing the state has enough evidence to convict (and precluding him from suing the state for wrongful conviction).
For now, Syed has to wait behind bars while the slow wheels of justice turn. But with top criminal defense organizations pushing for a speedy retrial, this might very well be the last New Year's Syed has to spend behind bars.