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‘Serial’ case: Adnan Syed to be released, conviction tossed

Adnan Syed, the subject of the US true crime podcast Serial, has had his murder conviction overturned.

September 20, 2022
By BRIAN WITTE
20 September 2022

A US judge has ordered the release of Adnan Syed after overturning Syed’s conviction for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee – a case that was chronicled in the hit podcast Serial.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn ordered that Syed’s conviction be vacated and approved the release of the now-41-year-old who has spent more than two decades behind bars.

Syed, who has always maintained his innocence, received widespread attention in 2014 when the debut season of Serial focused on Lee’s killing and raised doubts about some of the evidence prosecutors had used, inspiring countless dinner table debates about Syed’s innocence or guilt.

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

“All right Mr Syed, you’re free to join your family,” Phinn said as the hearing ended.

Minutes later, Syed emerged from the courthouse and flashed a small smile as he was shepherded to a waiting SUV through a sea of cameras and a cheering crowd of supporters.

Adnan Syed has had his murder conviction overturned by a Baltimore court. (Carlos Barria/Reuters/File Photo_

Syed has always maintained his innocence. His case captured the attention of millions in 2014 when the debut season of “Serial” focused on Lee’s killing and raised doubts about some of the evidence prosecutors had used, inspiring heated debates across dinner tables and water coolers about Syed’s innocence or guilt.

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

“I understand how difficult this is, but we need to make sure we hold the correct person accountable,” assistant state’s attorney Becky Feldman told the judge as she described various details from the case that undermine the decades-old conviction, including flawed cellphone data, unreliable witness testimony and and a potentially biased detective.

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

The investigation “revealed undisclosed and newly-developed information regarding two alternative suspects, as well as unreliable cell phone tower data,” State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office said in a news release last week.

The suspects were known persons at the time of the original investigation, but weren’t properly ruled out nor disclosed to the defense, said prosecutors, who declined to release information about the suspects, due to the ongoing investigation.

A view of the poster at of HBO’s The Case Against Adnan Syed. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for HBO)

Prosecutors said they weren’t asserting that Syed is innocent, but they lacked confidence “in the integrity of the conviction” and recommended he be released on his own recognizance or bail.

The state’s attorney’s office had said if the motion were granted it would effectively put Syed in a new trial status, vacating his convictions, while the case remained active.

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

In 2016, a lower court ordered a retrial for Syed on grounds that his attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, who died in 2004, didn’t contact an alibi witness and provided ineffective counsel.

But after a series of appeals, Maryland’s highest court in 2019 denied a new trial in a 4-3 opinion. The Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that Syed’s legal counsel was deficient in failing to investigate an alibi witness, but it disagreed that the deficiency prejudiced the case. The court said Syed waived his ineffective counsel claim.

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

Sarah Koenig poses with her award at The 74th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Peabody Awards)

The true-crime series was the brainchild of longtime radio producer and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, who spent more than a year digging into Syed’s case and reporting her findings in almost real-time in hour-long segments.

The 12-episode podcast won a Peabody Award and was transformative in popularizing podcasts for a wide audience.

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