U.S. News

Baltimore judge orders review of phone records in 'Serial' case

(Reuters) - A Baltimore man whose 15-year-old murder conviction was called into question by the popular “Serial” podcast has been granted a hearing to examine cellphone tower records and other evidence, court documents showed.

Adnan Syed, 35, was convicted in Maryland in 2000 of the murder of his ex-girlfriend and high school classmate, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, the previous year. Syed is serving a life sentence.

In a ruling on Friday, Baltimore Judge Martin Welch ordered a hearing to look into questions raised by Syed’s lawyers over cellphone tower records prosecutors used to show that he was at the site where Lee was buried after the Baltimore teenager’s disappearance.

Syed’s lawyers said in court papers this year that AT&T had indicated when it provided the data that incoming calls could not be used to determine location, but prosecutors at Syed’s 2000 trial used records on incoming calls to convict him.

Welch also ordered a hearing to allow testimony from Asia McClain on a possible alibi for Syed. McClain said in an affidavit that she saw Syed at a library around the time of Lee’s 1999 murder.

In May, a ruling from a Maryland appeals court opened the door for Syed to call McClain as a witness in the case. The appeals court returned the case to Baltimore City Circuit Court to re-open post-conviction proceedings.

Welch’s order affirms the higher court’s finding that it would be in the interest of justice to hear from McClain.

His ruling goes further than the appeals court decision by allowing a re-examination of the controversy over the cellphone records, even though the higher court had not specifically dealt with that question.

“The issue of cell tower location reliability is premised upon (Syed’s) claims of ineffective assistance of (his) counsel and potential prosecutorial misconduct during trial, which are grounds for reopening the post-conviction proceedings under Maryland law,” Welch wrote in his ruling.

“Serial,” which was released by public radio station WBEZ Chicago in October 2014, was the fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles