'The Case Against Adnan Syed' Spoilers: What Happened With Adnan's Appeal?

Public court proceedings totally spoil the new documentary series.

Did Baltimore teenager Adnan Syed really kill his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999? If he didn’t, then why has he spent almost two decades in jail? Why did Syed seemingly not receive a fair trial? Even more importantly, if he was wrongfully accused, then who’s the real killer?

These are the provocative questions that made Sarah Koenig’s Serial podcast a global sensation in 2014, essentially launching a cultural obsession with true crime in the years since.

The mystery behind this real-life murder case is also at the forefront of a new four-part HBO documentary series from Oscar-nominated director Amy Berg called The Case Against Adnan Syed, and it began airing this past Sunday on HBO.

Adnan was convicted in 2000 of murder and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years. He’s maintained his innocence all these years and Serial focused on whether or not he received a fair trial. The plan was to petition for a retrial with the claim the he wasn’t.

The Case Against Adnan Syed retells overlapping details from Serial with new visual elements, including previously unaired audio recordings from Syed, a look inside Hae Min Lee’s diary entries, and animated vignettes of their relationship that make for a more empathetic retelling of the story. 

But a huge addition to the narrative that comes into focus towards the end of the first episode comes with Tyler Maroney and Luke Brindle-Khym, two investigators with a firm called QRI hired in 2016 to look into the case specifically for this documentary series.

Were they successful? Did they find anything groundbreaking that could help exonerate Adnan in the ongoing case? What happens by the end of The Case Against Adnan Syed?

Contemporary court records from this month offer a huge spoiler about what happened with the investigation and whether or not Adnan Syed’s appeal for a legitimate retrial would be successful.

Spoiler: It wasn’t.

The Case Against Adnan Syed
Hae Min Lee (right) with three of her friends from Woodlawn High School.

The New York Times reported on March 8, 2019 — just two days before the first episode aired — that Maryland’s Court of Appeals ruled in a 4-to-3 decision against a 2018 ruling from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals that Syed had received ineffective legal counsel in the original trial and that the conviction should be vacated.

Translation? Adnan’s lawyer C. Justin Brown won the case in two lower courts, but Maryland’s highest court undid the decision.

The Court of Appeals agreed that Adnan’s original defense attorney, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, erred by not calling Asia McClain as a witness who may have provided an alibi. But they were convinced that even with that testimony, there was still enough evidence for a conviction.

Anyone can read the public documentation online of the court’s decision.

The remaining three episodes of The Case Against Adnan Syed might recount how Adnan was granted a retrial in June 2016 from the Baltimore City Circuit Court that was then upheld in March 2018 by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, but the story will probably end there.

Adnan’s lawyer C. Justin Brown criticized the judicial system in a March 8 statement and said, “We are devastated by the Court of Appeals’ decision but we will not give up on Adnan Syed.” The only other option is to pursue an appeal in federal court, which should happen in time.

We may never learn the truth about what happened to Hae Min Lee, but it’s starting to seem like Adnan Syed might forever be receiving the punishment for her death, whether or not he murdered her.

The Case Against Adnan Syed continues Sunday, March 17 on HBO at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Media via HBO