US judge grants new trial to Adnan Syed of Serial podcast fame

Adnan Syed in February 2015 (Reuters)
Adnan Syed in February 2015 (Reuters)

A United States judge has granted a new trial to Adnan Syed, the man at the centre of the first season of the popular Serial podcast.

Syed was convicted in 2000 of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, while they were high school students in Baltimore. He was sentenced to life in prison but maintains his innocence.

Syed's lawyers took to Twitter to declare their excitement at the decision by Baltimore Judge Martin Welch.

"I am shaking with joy, shaking!" wrote Rabia Chaudry.

Syed's brother Yusuf told the Baltimore Sun he was "very happy".

"It's not only a win for us but a win for a lot of people who're stuck in the [justice] system."

In 1999, prosecutors alleged Syed strangled Ms Lee, 18, and buried her body in a Baltimore park.

Syed's case rose to prominence when it became the subject of the WBEZ Chicago podcast Serial in 2014. A spinoff podcast, Undisclosed, also uncovered instrumental new evidence.

In an order released on Thursday (local time), Judge Welch granted the new trial due to the failure of Syed's original lawyer to cross-examine a prosecution expert about the reliability of key cellular tower evidence, which was relied on to chart Syed's alleged movements on the day Ms Lee was killed.

The decision followed a post-conviction hearing in February 2016, which began the process of deciding whether Syed, now 35 years old, would get a new trial.

During the hearing new evidence was presented, including from new alibi witness Asia McLean, who prominently featured on Serial.

Ms Lee's family have previously said they remain convinced Syed killed her, saying the latest round of legal proceedings had "reopened wounds few can imagine".