Trials & Litigation

Subject of 'Serial' podcast gets a new trial; judge says trial lawyer didn't question cellphone data

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Magnifying glass and cellphone

An inmate whose murder case was chronicled on the popular Serial podcast has been granted a new trial because his trial lawyer provided ineffective assistance on a technology issue.

A Baltimore judge granted Adnan Syed a new trial Thursday, the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun report. Syed is serving a life sentence for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee.

Syed had contended his former lawyer was ineffective, partly for failing to call an alibi witness. In post-conviction hearings, the witness testified that she had talked with Syed in a public library at the time of Lee’s murder. The judge’s order, however, didn’t grant relief on that basis.

Instead, Judge Martin Welch said (PDF) that Syed’s trial lawyer was ineffective because she failed to cross-examine a former AT&T engineer about the reliability of cellphone data used to place Syed at the scene were the body was buried.

The former AT&T engineer, Abraham Waranowitz, said in a post-conviction affidavit that he was not shown a fax cover sheet that warned about the accuracy of location data for incoming phone calls, according to this October 2015 story by the Baltimore Sun.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the cover sheet read, “Outgoing calls only are reliable for location status. Any incoming calls will NOT be considered reliable information for location.”

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