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State files opening brief in Syed appeal

In this Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 file photo, Adnan Syed enters Courthouse East in Baltimore prior to a hearing. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP, File)

In this Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 file photo, Adnan Syed enters Courthouse East in Baltimore prior to a hearing. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP, File)

Attorneys for the state filed their opening brief with the Court of Special Appeals on Monday in the fight to reverse a trial judge’s decision last year granting a new trial for Adnan Syed.

The defense team for Syed, whose first-degree murder conviction was the subject of the first season of the “Serial” podcast, will have 30 days to respond to the state’s argument that retired Baltimore City Circuit Judge Martin P. Welch should not have considered new evidence which he ultimately used to determine that Syed was owed a new trial.

The Maryland Office of the Attorney General made the same arguments last year in its petition for leave to appeal, including that Welch should not have considered that Syed’s trial counsel failed to adequately cross-examine a state witness on cell-tower evidence because that issue was not the basis for reopening post-conviction proceedings.

Syed’s conviction was vacated in June following reopened post-conviction proceedings. That decision was stayed pending the state’s appeal. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for the 1999 murder of his former high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee.

Prosecutors relied on two incoming calls in Syed’s cellphone records to place him near the burial site on the night of Jan. 13 but a fax cover sheet on the records warned that incoming calls should not be relied on to determine location.

The state contends on appeal that Welch abused his discretion by considering the fax cover sheet because post-conviction proceedings were reopened based on an affidavit from Asia McClain, an alibi witness. McClain said she spoke with Syed around the time prosecutors alleged he murdered Lee and was not asked to testify at trial despite reaching out to the defense team.

Welch did not find Syed’s attorney’s failure to contact McClain prejudiced his case, an issue which Syed has cross-appealed.

Syed is represented by Baltimore attorney C. Justin Brown and a pro bono team from Hogan Lovells US LLP.

The case is State of Maryland v. Adnan Syed, No. 1396 September Term 2016.


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