Adnan Syed of "Serial" podcast getting a new trial

New trial for Adnan Syed

WASHINGTON -- A podcast may help clear a man convicted of a murder he says he didn't commit. On Thursday, a Maryland appeals court ordered a new trial in the case of Adnan Syed, who was sentenced to life in prison 18 years ago for the strangling death of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. 

Syed has now spent half of his life behind bars for a crime he insists he did not commit.

ap489239124915.jpg
Adnan Syed AP Photo/Courtesy of Yusuf Syed

"No one ever has been able to provide any shred of evidence that I had anything but friendship toward her," he has said. "I had no reason to kill her."

Now, unless Thursday's ruling is overturned on appeal, Syed will get a chance to prove that he's innocent in a new trial.

What makes this story extraordinary is that this turn of events is due largely to the work of a radio journalist, Sarah Koenig, whose reports on the blockbuster podcast "Serial" questioned whether Syed received a fair trial. Episodes of Serial have been downloaded more than a 175 million times, turning the Syed case into a global sensation.

The court said Thursday it ordered a new trial because of a "deficient performance" by Syed's trial attorney, whose failure to call an important alibi witness to testify "prejudiced Syed's defense."

Koenig's podcast played a crucial role in locating that alibi witness.

Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and the author of "Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial," said on CBSN they lost an appeal before the podcast went live. Chaudry called "Serial" a "weirdly global phenemon" and credited that more people were paying attention. Chaudry said she hadn't yet spoken to Syed, but said she and his family were "incredibly relieved" by the news.  

"'Serial' has also helped build this groundswell of support for us and for Adnan and for the case and that has really fueled these efforts and allowed us to keep fighting on the way that we have," said Justin Brown, Syed's attorney on appeal.

Maryland's Attorney General refused to say whether he will appeal, but if he does it could be months before Syed finds out if he really will get a new trial.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.