Adnan Syed’s murder conviction has been overturned by Baltimore court
Adnan Syed’s murder conviction has been overturned after he served 22 years in prison for the killing of his girlfriend Hae Min Lee following a verdict Monday in a Baltimore courtroom.
After an hour-long hearing in Baltimore’s Circuit Court, Syed’s 2000 conviction for the 1999 murder was overturned.
He is being released to house arrest as the judge ordered a new trial. Superior Court Judge Melissa M. Phinn said her decision was ‘in the interest of justice.’
Syed, 41, was serving a life sentence plus 40 years after he was convicted in 2000 of strangling Lee and burying her body in a shallow grave in Baltimore’s Leakin Park. Syed and Lee were high school friends who had dated.
Although he was 17 at the time of the murder, Syed was tried as an adult. He has consistently maintained his innocence.
He will now face a new trial in the case. At the time of writing, the court date has not been set.
Prosecutors in Baltimore asked that Adnan Syed, pictured here in 2016, be retried for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee.
Rabia Chaudry, a childhood friend of Adnan Syed, arrives in court on Monday afternoon
Mickey Tait, dressed in a shirt featuring Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, sits next to Catina Carter, wearing a T-shirt with the name Adnan Syed, whose case was featured on the hit podcast “Serial,” as they wait outside the courthouse for the development in consultation today
Ahead of the decision to vacate the murder conviction, a lawyer representing Lee’s family, Steven Kelly, launched a blistering attack on the attorney general’s office, calling the hastily arranged hearing ‘outrageous’.
Among the reasons for the outrage was that Lee’s brother, Young, wanted to attend the hearing but could not because of work.
Young addressed the court and said: ‘My heart is pounding a bit right now… I personally wanted to be there. I have lived with this for over 20 years. Every day when I think it’s over… or it’s over, it always comes back. It kills me. It’s really hard’.
He also talked about how hard it is to know that even though he always believed the right person was in prison for his sister’s murder, there are now other suspects walking free.
Young Lee added: ‘This is not a podcast. This is real life. This is a 20 plus year nightmare.’
Syed appeared in court wearing a shirt and tie, he had his handcuffs removed before his appearance in the courtroom.
One of the speakers in the courtroom was Becky Feldman, head of the State’s Attorney’s Office’s Sentencing Review Unit.
Feldman has been investigating Syed’s case since June 2022.
Among her findings was that another possible suspect had previously threatened to kill Lee, despite prosecutors knowing about this, the information was never disclosed to Syed’s defense.
One of the alternative suspects had a history of violence against women, including a conviction for multiple rapes.
Feldman indicated to AT&T publicly that the cellphone data used to place Syed at Lee’s grave site around the time of the murder was not reliable.
She went on to take aim at the state’s witness in the Syed case, his former friend Jay Wilds, who testified against him. Feldman said, “He gave two different accounts to the police about where he saw the victim’s body.”
In a report of her findings, Feldman said: ‘It is in the interests of justice and fairness that these convictions be vacated and that the defendant be given, at a minimum, a new trial.’
Syed’s attorney, Erica Suter, began her remarks by saying, ‘My client is innocent.’ She added: ‘Mr. Syed’s sentence was based on a flawed investigation.’
The office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (above) also recommended in the motion that Syed be released without bond pending retrial
Syed is serving a life sentence after he was convicted of strangling Lee (with him upstairs at the ball). The two were high school friends who had dated
The motion to vacate Syed’s conviction came Wednesday, with the state’s attorney for Baltimore City saying new evidence casts doubt on Syed’s conviction and asking that his guilty verdict be vacated and a new trial date set.
The office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby also recommended in the motion that Syed, who is currently serving life behind bars, be released without bond pending retrial.
The motion says prosecutors are not arguing that Syed is innocent in the case, but that ‘the state no longer has confidence in the integrity of the verdict.’
Monday was supposed to be the start of Mosby’s federal trial on perjury and mortgage fraud charges. That trial will now not start until March 2023. The delay is not related to the Syed case.
If follows a year-long investigation by prosecutors and defense attorneys that revealed new information about the possible involvement of two alternative suspects.
Prosecutors said the two suspects were known to initial investigators in 1999 but were not properly ruled out.
The proposal, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, did not name the two alternative suspects, citing the integrity of the investigation.
Ronald Lee Moore was floated as a potential suspect in the Serial podcast
Although it is unclear who the alternate suspects are, one of those mentioned in the series podcast was Ronald Lee Moore, who had left prison days before Lee’s death and committed other crimes similar to her murder.
Moore committed suicide in 2008 while incarcerated for unrelated crimes, and police said he was a suspect in a string of burglaries, unsolved sexual assaults and murders in Maryland in 1999.
The filing also says prosecutors during the trial failed to turn over key information to the defense team as required, in what is known as a Brady violation.
The withheld information included a testimony about threats against Lee made by one of the other suspects, including the threat to kill her.
Prosecutors also questioned the validity of cell phone records and data presented in the original trial as key evidence for the state.
Adnan Syed walks into Courthouse East in Baltimore ahead of a hearing in 2016. Two courts have previously denied Syed’s requests for a new trial
Although he was 17 at the time of the murder, Syed was tried as an adult. He has consistently maintained his innocence
“Given the stunning lack of reliable evidence implicating Mr. Syed, coupled with mounting evidence pointing to other suspects, this wrongful conviction cannot stand,” Syed’s attorney Erica Suter said in a statement.
‘Sir. Syed is grateful that this information has finally seen the light of day and looks forward to his day in court,’ added Suter, who is also director of the Innocence Project Clinic.
In its debut season in 2014, the ‘Serial’ podcast broke podcast streaming records and spotlighted the case that led to the retrial.
Lee’s family, who believe Syed is guilty of her murder, have slammed the podcast, saying it forced them to ‘relive a nightmare we thought was behind us.’
In March this year, a judge ordered that evidence from the case, including the victim’s rape kit, be tested for DNA using technology not available at the time of the murder.
It’s unclear whether the results of that test played into the motion filed Wednesday.
This follows a number of legal twists in the case.
Syed, now 40, is serving a life sentence plus 40 years after he was convicted in 2000 of strangling Lee and burying her body in a shallow grave.
Sarah Koenig, producer and host of the podcast Serial, is seen in 2015
Two courts previously denied Syed’s requests for a new trial based on allegations of ineffective counsel.
His lawyer at his first trial, Cristina Gutierrez, failed to contact an alibi witness, Asia McClain, who said she saw Syed in a library at the time prosecutors say he strangled Lee in 1999. Gutierrez has since died .
But in 2018, the Maryland Court of Appeals denied Syed a new trial in a 4-3 ruling, even though it agreed that his trial attorney’s work was lacking.
The state Supreme Court said there was little chance the outcome would have been different if Gutierrez had done what she was supposed to.
Then in 2019, the US Supreme Court rejected Syed’s bid for a new trial.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a statement at the time that the evidence against Syed ‘was overwhelming.’
“We remain confident in the verdict reached by the jury and are pleased that justice has been done for Hae Min Lee,” he said.