Criminal Justice

Judge orders new DNA tests in Adnan Syed murder case featured on 'Serial' podcast

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A Baltimore judge has ordered new DNA testing of evidence in the murder case against Adnan Syed after his lawyer and Baltimore prosecutors supported additional tests.

Judge Melissa Phinn of the Baltimore City Circuit Court ruled Monday, report the Baltimore Sun and the Associated Press.

Syed’s case had gained prominence after it was featured on the Serial podcast.

The prosecution and defense motion filed Thursday sought DNA testing that wasn’t available when Syed was tried for the murder of his former girlfriend, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, report the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun and CNN.

Maryland’s top court had upheld Syed’s conviction in March 2019. Syed, who is serving a life sentence, was 17 at the time that Lee was murdered in January 1999.

The 2019 decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals rejected a claim that Syed’s trial lawyer was ineffective for failing to contact an alibi witness who said she saw Syed at the library around the time of Lee’s murder. The court cited evidence of another witness who said he helped Syed bury the body.

The joint motion said DNA testing “has changed and improved drastically” since the crime happened. For example, evidence can now be tested for very small amounts of DNA, such as “touch DNA,” which is left behind from skin cells when a person touches or comes into contact with an item.

The motion sought DNA testing “on all pieces of the victim’s clothing, shoes, recovered hairs and other evidence.” Those items are different than evidence tested in 2018 by the Maryland attorney general’s office, according to the Baltimore Sun.

That prior test of fingernail clippings, blood samples, a liquor bottle and condom wrapper did not find a match to Syed’s DNA, according to a prior story from the Baltimore Sun.

The new motion also sought tests in an effort to create a DNA profile.

Phinn’s order said evidence that wasn’t tested in 2018 should be sent to a California crime lab within 15 days. The results will be sent to the prosecution, the defense and the FBI’s DNA databases.

Syed had asked prosecutors to review his case last year under a new Maryland law that allows people who were 17 or younger at the time of their crimes to seek reduced sentences after serving 20 years in prison.

Updated March 16 at 9:30 a.m. to report on the judge’s decision.

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