Adnan Syed to be released, conviction overturned

BALTIMORE — A judge in Baltimore on Monday ordered Adnan Syed’s release after overturning Syed’s conviction for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee – a case chronicled on hit podcast Serial.

At the behest of prosecutors, District Court Judge Melissa Phinn ordered that Syed’s conviction be vacated and she authorized the release of the now 41-year-old, who has spent more than two decades behind bars.

Phinn ruled that the state had violated its legal obligation to share exculpatory evidence with Syed’s defense. She ordered his release from custody and placed under house arrest with GPS tracking. She also asked the state to decide within 30 days whether to request a new hearing or dismiss the case.

Syed, who has always maintained his innocence, garnered widespread attention in 2014 when the first season of “Serial” focused on Lee’s murder and cast doubt on some of the evidence prosecutors had used, sparking countless around-the-clock debates over Syed’s innocence or guilt stimulated.

Last week, prosecutors filed a motion saying a lengthy investigation conducted with the defense uncovered new evidence that could undermine the 2000 conviction of Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend.

Syed was serving a life sentence after being convicted of strangling 18-year-old Lee, whose body was found buried in a Baltimore park.

Syed was the subject of the popular podcast "Serial" on the Hae Min Lee murder case.
Syed was the subject of the popular podcast Serial on the Hae Min Lee murder case.
Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP

The investigation “revealed undisclosed and newly developed information about two alternative suspects, as well as unreliable cell tower data,” prosecutor Marilyn Mosby’s office said in a news release last week. The suspects were known people at the time of the original investigation but were not properly disqualified or disclosed to the defense, said prosecutors, who declined to release information about the suspects due to the ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors said they did not claim Syed was innocent, but they lacked confidence “in the integrity of the conviction” and recommended he be released on his own or on bail. Prosecutors had said if the motion were granted, it would effectively place Syed in a new trial status and have his convictions overturned while the case remains active.

Syed was led into the crowded courtroom in handcuffs on Monday. He was wearing a white shirt with a tie and was sitting next to his attorney. His mother and other family representatives were in the room, as was Mosby.

In 2016, a lower court ordered Syed’s retrial on the grounds that his attorney Cristina Gutierrez, who died in 2004, had not contacted an alibi witness and had failed to provide effective counsel.

But after a series of appeals, the Maryland Supreme Court in 2019 rejected a new trial in a 4-3 opinion. The appeals court agreed with a lower court that Syed’s counsel was defective in failing to examine an alibi witness, but disagreed that the deficiency marred the case. The court said Syed waived his voidable attorney claim.

The US Supreme Court declined to review Syed’s case in 2019.

The true crime series was the brainchild of longtime radio producer and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, who spent more than a year investigating Syed’s case and reporting her findings in near-real time in hour-long segments. The 12-episode podcast won a Peabody Award and was transformative in popularizing podcasts to a wide audience. Adnan Syed to be released, conviction overturned


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