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Law & Crime

DNA Could Offer Another Avenue for Serial's Syed

Hawes Spencer

The popular NPR podcast Serial is back in the headlines with news that a young Maryland man convicted of killing his high-school girlfriend will get the opportunity to appeal.

Here in Virginia, a separate effort is underway to determine whether the guy featured in Serial is the real killer.

Serial fans might remember Deirdre Enright. She heads the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia Law School and appears in two episodes of the podcast, talking with host Sarah Koenig about convicted killer Adnan Syed.

"One of the first questions I said is, 'What about the physical evidence?’ And she said, 'Well, it's funny because I looked at some of the forensics, and she said, ‘There's a lab report that says that somebody looked at a slide but didn't see any sperm.’ And I thought, 'We don't eyeball sperm. That's not how that goes, right?'"

As it turns out, results from the rape kit were never tested, nor were the the liquor bottle and the rope found at the scene. Nobody did DNA tests on two unidentified hairs found with the body of 18-year-old victim Hae Min Lee, and the crime lab did not check her fingernail clippings.

"She was strangled, so what was under her fingernails would matter," says Enright.

In fact, the prosecution's case was based not on any physical evidence but on cell tower pings and the shifting testimony of the man who admittedly helped bury the body, a drug dealing acquaintance who had possession of Adnan Syed's car and cell phone on the day of the murder, 16 years ago. Rabia Chaudry, a friend of Adnan’s, brought his case to Serial.

"Nobody realized that there was this evidence that could have been tested and was never tested. It was an amazing discovery, but also I think for Adnan it was a little bit devastating that all these years have gone by and that could have been done."

Enright thinks the prosecution may have feared DNA testing would discredit their case, while the original defense attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, simply failed.

"She didn't test it, and she didn't hammer them for not testing it; so that's what makes me think she missed it."

Gutierrez died four years after losing Syed's case and three years after losing her law license, following numerous client complaints. Enright won't say when she'll file the request for DNA testing, but Syed will get a hearing on his appeal in June.

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