A hearing to decide whether convicted murderer Adnan Syed deserves a retrial wrapped up Tuesday with closing arguments — and both sides sparring over new evidence meant to help exonerate the Maryland man.
"A mistake was made not to talk to an alibi witness who could have turned this trial around," said Syed's attorney, Justin Brown, who added that the defense "met our burden and that Mr. Syed deserves a new trial."
The case surrounding Syed, whose guilt was called into question by the popular 2014 podcast "Serial," has been in the spotlight with a post-conviction hearing that began last Wednesday.
The hearing has come off as a mini-trial of sorts, with testimony from witnesses and experts dissecting whether the unheard evidence would have changed the outcome of Syed's 2000 trial.
Syed's ex-girlfriend and high school classmate, Hae Min Lee, was strangled and her body dumped in a Baltimore park in January 1999. Syed was convicted based on testimony from an acquaintance, although there was no DNA or eyewitness tying him directly to the murder. He is currently serving a life sentence.
The presentation of new evidence compelled a judge last year to agree to a hearing to determine whether Syed, now 34, is owed a retrial.
Brown has argued that cell tower data linking Syed to Lee's burial site was misleading because it was presented to jurors without the warning that information about incoming calls was unreliable.
Moreover, Brown said, Syed's trial lawyer in 2000 — Cristina Gutierrez — was ineffective because she didn't contact a key alibi witness. That witness, Asia Chapman, testified during the hearing that she was with Syed at a public library during the time Lee was killed.
Maryland state prosecutors, however, argued Tuesday that Gutierrez put on a "passionate, vigorous defense," and "poured every ounce of her great talents into Mr. Syed."
Syed himself said so, claimed Maryland Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah.
The young man wrote in a letter to the trial judge during his original proceedings that Gutierrez's "hard work, determination and belief in my innocence assures me I'm in the best hands," according to Vignarajah.
Vignarajah also acknowledged the intense media attention generated by "Serial," which attracted millions of listeners in the fall of 2014 during its first season.
"This is not a popular position," Vignarajah said, "but the state's role is to do justice."
In a statement from Syed later read by his attorney, he thanked his supporters for their encouragement.
"The events of the past 16 months have filled me with a great sense of hope, and I intend to keep fighting to prove my innocence," Syed said, according to Brown.
The judge's written ruling is not expected to be released until a later time.