State’s attorneys op­pose Syed trial

‘Sen­sa­tion­al­ized at­ten­tion’ led to bad rul­ing, they say

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Justin Fen­ton jfen­ton@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/justin_fen­ton

State’s attorneys from across Mary­land have filed an am­i­cus brief op­pos­ing an ap­pel­late court’s de­ci­sion to grant “Se­rial” pod­cast sub­ject Ad­nan Syed a new trial, ar­gu­ing the out­sized at­ten­tion on the case led to an im­proper rul­ing.

The brief calls Syed’s suc­cess­ful post­con­vic­tion ap­peal “mer­it­less,” and says “sen­sa­tion­al­ized at­ten­tion” sur­round­ing the case was “fu­eled by sup­port­ers of a con­victed mur­derer” and “should not bear on the just and proper res­o­lu­tion of this ap­peal,” it says.

The brief is signed by the elected state’s attorneys of ev­ery county in Mary­land, ex­cept for Bal­ti­more State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn J. Mosby and Bal­ti­more County State’s At­tor­ney Scott Shel­len­berger. The coali­tion says it did not seek Mosby or Shel­len­berger’s par­tic­i­pa­tion be­cause the killing for which Syed is ac­cused took place in their ju­ris­dic­tions. Ce­cil County, where the case’s orig­i­nal pros­e­cu­tor now works, also did not sign the brief.

Last month, the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Crim­i­nal De­fense Lawyers and Mary­land Crim­i­nal De­fense Attorneys’ As­so­ci­a­tion filed an am­i­cus brief in fa­vor of the de­fense, urg­ing that a new trial would re­store con­fi­dence in the state jus­tice sys­tem.

Syed’s lead at­tor­ney, C. Justin Brown, said the prose­cu­tors’ fil­ing was “an­other ex­am­ple of the ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths [to which] the state is go­ing to avoid retry­ing this case.”

“If the state is so con­fi­dent in its case, the state should do the right thing and give Syed a fair trial he never re­ceived the first time around,” Brown said.

Syed was con­victed and sen­tenced to life in prison in 2000 for killing Wood­lawn High School class­mate and ex­girl­friend Hae Min Lee, whose body was found in Leakin Park.

Af­ter failed at­tempts to over­turn his con­vic­tion, the case be­came the sub­ject of the block­buster “Se­rial” pod­cast, which raised ques­tions about the case against him. Syed was granted a new hear­ing to present an al­ibi wit­ness and at­tack cell­phone tower ev­i­dence used at his trial. Judge Martin Welch over­turned his con­vic­tion this sum­mer.

The Mary­land at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, which ar­gued against Syed’s pe­ti­tion, is now ap­peal­ing Welch’s rul­ing in the state’s Court of Spe­cial Ap­peals.

Now other prose­cu­tors are join­ing the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice.

“Be­fore this case be­came a ‘ global phe­nom­e­non,’ Mr. Syed’s mo­tion for a new trial, di­rect ap­peals, and post­con­vic­tion pe­ti­tions were all cor­rectly re­jected,” the prose­cu­tors wrote.

They faulted the lower court’s de­ci­sion to grant Syed a new trial “based on a com­pletely new claim” that Syed’s trial at­tor­ney should have used “a boil­er­plate AT&T fax cover sheet” to at­tack state cell­phone ev­i­dence that trial prose­cu­tors said placed him near Leakin Park.

“No one, in­clud­ing all of the de­fen­dant’s ca­pa­ble post-trial attorneys, made this ar­gu­ment un­til a lawyer who blogged about the case first sug­gested it af­ter the 10-year statu­tory win­dow ex­pired,” the prose­cu­tors wrote.

The ques­tions about the cell­phone tower ev­i­dence had not been part of Syed’s most re­cent pe­ti­tion for a new trial, but were al­lowed to be in­tro­duced and be­came the ba­sis for Welch’s rul­ing.

Su­san Simp­son, a co-host of a “Se­rial” off­shoot pod­cast called “Undis­closed,” dis­cov­ered lan­guage on a fax cover sheet from AT&T that said data re­lated to in­com­ing calls was “un­re­li­able.” The cell­phone tech­ni­cian who tes­ti­fied at Syed’s trial said it caused him to re­con­sider his tes­ti­mony.

The prose­cu­tors say Welch made a “clear er­ror.”

“It hap­pens,” they wrote. “But when it does, it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the ap­pel­late courts to cor­rect the er­ror.”

They said a re­trial will not end the public de­bate over the case, and cases shouldn’t be heard by as­sess­ing “who is louder.”

In a brief sup­port­ing the de­fense, ap­pel­late at­tor­ney Steve Klep­per took a dif­fer­ent view.

“Judge Welch’s thought­ful, com­pre­hen­sive opin­ion il­lus­trates the time and re­sources it took to get this far. The post-con­vic­tion statute places great trust in the judg­ment and dis­cre­tion of the cir­cuit court,” he wrote.

“A prompt re­trial, with all wit­nesses still avail­able, is the best way for the ju­di­ciary to re­move any cloud over its pro­cesses. … The public in­ter­est strongly fa­vors de­nial of the State’s ap­pli­ca­tion and a prompt re­trial, to pro­mote public con­fi­dence in the Mary­land crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.”

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