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Dec 10, 2014 7:29 PM

Podcast changes public perception of murder case

The Associated Press

BALTIMORE (AP) Like more than 1 million other faithful listeners, the family of convicted killer Adnan Syed eagerly awaits the next episode of a podcast investigating his murder case.

For the family, though, this isn't entertainment. It's personal.

Ever since Syed, a smart, athletic, popular Baltimore County high school student, was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999 and sent to prison for life, his family has been broken, said his mother, Shamim Rahman. Syed's father fell into a deep depression and his older brother became estranged. His younger brother, Yusuf, now 25, bounced from public school to public school before Rahman sent him to Pakistan to escape the harassment of fellow students.

"We had nothing left," Rahman said.

But things are beginning to change for the family, which has suddenly found itself at the center of Serial, a podcast that has revived Syed's case in weekly installments. It is hosted by veteran radio producer and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, who unpacks and re-investigates the complex case in almost real-time.

The family said they are relieved the podcast has helped change public perception of Syed and thrust into the spotlight what had largely been their private crusade for justice.

"The whole community waits for Thursday," Rahman said. "After it's done, we call each other and talk about it."

Prosecutors said Syed, now 34, strangled Lee after becoming inconsolably jealous when the two broke up and she began dating someone else.

For the past two months, the podcast has raised questions about witnesses who testified against Syed, the lack of physical evidence and whether Syed had an adequate lawyer at trial.

His former attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, did not interview a witness who said she was with Syed at the time Lee was killed. Gutierrez, a high-profile criminal defense attorney, was disbarred in 2001 when client funds went missing. She died in 2004 of a heart attack.

The Innocence Project in Virginia is now working on the case and in September, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals asked the state to respond to arguments about Syed's alibi and previous attorney.

Syed's attorney Justin Brown said the Court of Special Appeals will decide whether to hear the appeal and if it does, whether Syed deserves a new trial.

As the podcast's popularity grows, there are spinoff blogs, chats and even other podcasts debating Syed's guilt or innocence.

Yusuf Syed said he is glad so many people are interested, though part of him is frustrated it took so long.

"Since the podcast has been out, it helps us when we say, 'he's innocent, there's something wrong with the case.' Now people can listen and say, 'yes, it's true, there's something to what they're saying.'"

In her home in Baltimore County, Rahman has kept the pictures and pieces of art Syed has sent her while he's been in prison: a painting of a mosque in a forest, two rose sculptures carved out of soap.

She said the renewed interest has restored her faith that someday her son could come home.

"Before we thought everything was gone, nobody was there to help us," Rahman said. "We did three or four appeals, the first was denied, the second was denied, the third was denied. But when the podcast came out, and the Innocence Project got involved, now we have hope again."


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