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Serial’s Adnan Syed is getting a new trial — on his absolute last chance to appeal

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Adnan Syed, the convicted murderer whose story was at the heart of the hit first season of the podcast Serial, had his request for a new trial granted, a judge in Baltimore City Circuit Court decided Thursday.

Syed’s convictions were vacated, meaning he could end up on trial for the murder of his ex-girlfriend for a second time, 17 years after the murder occurred and two years after his story spawned the most popular podcast in America. So far prosecutors have fought his attempts to prove his innocence, but it’s possible that the state would either drop the case or offer a plea deal that could result in Syed’s freedom, as has happened in other cases where convictions were overturned.

Syed was convicted of murdering Hae Min Lee in 1999, although he, his family, and his friends have always insisted he’s innocent.

Serial host Sarah Koenig explored his case in the first season of her podcast. Her reporting turned up new evidence, including cellphone data and an alibi witness, Asia McClain, who wasn’t called to the stand during Syed’s original trial. Syed’s lawyers used Koenig’s findings as well as other new evidence to make a final attempt to secure a new trial for him based on several arguments that his initial lawyer, who has since died, didn’t do a good enough job representing him at trial.

But while the failure to call McClain to the stand got the most attention during the podcast, that argument wasn’t what won the day and convinced the Baltimore City Circuit judge to vacate Syed’s convictions.

Instead, it was Syed’s lawyer’s failure to thoroughly cross-examine the state’s cellphone tower expert about how reliable the data — which helped place Syed at the scene of the crime — really was. And the evidence that cast doubt on how reliable the evidence really was, the Baltimore Sun reported, didn’t come from Serial at all, but from a spinoff podcast, Undisclosed, started by a family friend of Syed’s.