Inside ‘Adnan Syed Update, Haven Spent 23 Years In Prison, Left The Court A Free Man For 1999 Murder’ A judge on Monday approved a motion by prosecutors to vacate the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, the subject of the first season of the popular “Serial” podcast, who has maintained he is innocent in the 1999 slaying of his ex-girlfriend.
Adnan Syed Update, Haven Spent 23 Years In Prison, Left The Court A Free Man For 1999 Murder
Syed has been serving a life sentence after being found guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping, and false imprisonment in connection with the death of Hae Min Lee. Baltimore prosecutors filed the request last week asking for a new trial for Syed.
Baltimore City Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn gave two reasons for her decision to resign: the existence of two suspects who might have been wrongly cleared as part of the probe, and information from the state investigation that was not properly provided to defense lawyers.
The courtroom erupted in applause and sobs upon hearing her decision. Syed was not tied, but his feet were. He was dressed for the hearing in a white button-down shirt, a dark tie, and a kufi cap. Following the decision, authorities released Syed’s ankle chains, and he immediately left the courthouse amid cheers and ovations from his supporters. As he got into a car, he did not stop to speak to reporters.
Following the judge’s decision, Marilyn Mosby, the state’s attorney for Baltimore City, remarked, “We’re not yet declaring Adnan Syed is innocent.” “However, we are stating that he is entitled to a second trial for the sake of fairness and justice.”
Prosecutors have 30 days to decide whether to pursue a new trial, and they are waiting for DNA analysis that they are trying to expedite to determine whether Adnan’s case is dismissed or the case is set for trial. But that mandate, Mosby said, is “separate and apart” from the investigation into who killed Lee.
In the meantime, Syed will wear an ankle monitor with tracking, according to Becky Feldman, chief of the Sentencing Review Unit of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.
Twenty-three years after he went to prison, “we now know what Adnan and his loved ones have always known, that Adnan’s trial was profoundly and outrageously unfair. Evidence was hidden from him, evidence that pointed to other people as the killers,” Assistant Public Defender Erica Suter, Syed’s attorney and director of the Innocence Project Clinic, said in a statement following the ruling.
The hearing comes nearly eight years after the “Serial” podcast dug into his case, raising questions about the conviction and his legal representation. In doing so, the podcast reached a huge audience and set off a true-crime podcasting boom as well as further examinations of the case, including the HBO docuseries “The Case Against Adnan Syed.”
Prosecutors moved to vacate Syed’s conviction following a nearly year-long investigation, they said in a news release last week. At the time, Mosby said prosecutors were “not asserting, at this time, that Mr. Syed is innocent” but that the state “lacks confidence in the integrity of the conviction” and that Syed should get a new trial.
The reinvestigation of the case revealed evidence about the possible involvement of two suspects other than Syed, including a person who said they would make Lee “disappear” and that “(h)e would kill her,” prosecutors said. Syed’s attorneys said he and his legal team were unaware that information existed until this year.
Defense attorneys praised the prosecution’s motion to vacate the conviction as righting a wrong.
“Given the stunning lack of reliable evidence implicating Mr. Syed, coupled with increasing evidence pointing to other suspects, this unjust conviction cannot stand,” Suter said in a statement last week.
Maryland public defender Natasha Dartigue in a news release called the case “a true example of how justice delayed is justice denied. An innocent man spends decades wrongly incarcerated, while any information or evidence that could help identify the actual perpetrator becomes increasingly difficult to pursue.”
What We Know About The Case
Adnan and Lee were seniors at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County in January 1999 when she disappeared. Her strangled body was discovered in a city forest three weeks later.
Syed and prosecutors in March filed a joint motion for post-conviction DNA testing, saying that since the crime occurred more than two decades ago, “DNA testing has changed and improved drastically.”
The March motion asked that the victim’s clothing be tested for touch DNA, which was not available at the time of trial. Items now being tested were not previously tested in 2018 – when the Baltimore City Police Lab tested various items for DNA – with the exception of the victim’s fingernail clippings, Mosby’s statement said.
Mosby said the motion to vacate was filed along with Sentencing Review Unit Chief Becky Feldman. Syed was a juvenile when convicted.
The alternative suspects were known persons at the time of the original investigation “and were not properly ruled out nor disclosed to the defense,” according to Mosby’s statement.
The state is not disclosing the names of the suspects but said that, according to the trial file, one of them said, “He would make her (Ms. Lee) disappear. He would kill her.”
The investigation also revealed that one suspect was convicted of attacking a woman in her vehicle, according to the statement. The second suspect was convicted of engaging in serial rape and sexual assault, the statement said.
Some of the information was available at the time of the trial, the statement said, and some came to light later. It is not clear when these assaults took place.
Lee’s car was located “directly behind the house of one of the suspect’s family members,” the statement said.
The Case & Trial, Details
Attorneys for Syed brought the case to the attention of the sentencing review unit in April 2021.
Syed’s attorneys “identified significant reliability issues regarding the most critical pieces of evidence at trial,” Mosby’s statement said.
In the 2019 HBO docuseries “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” an attorney for Syed said his client’s DNA was not found on any of the 12 samples retrieved from the victim’s body and car. That testing was not part of the official investigation by authorities. HBO, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.
At trial, prosecutors relied on testimony from a friend, Jay Wilds, who said he helped Syed dig a hole for Lee’s body. To corroborate his account, prosecutors presented cell phone records and expert witness testimony to place Syed at the site where Lee was buried.