Adnan Syed, whose legal saga spawned the hit podcast “Series,” broke free Monday and left a Baltimore courthouse after 23 years.
He laughs and walks down the court steps, jubilant and presumed innocent in the 1999 killing of Lee Hae-min.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Finn overturns Syed’s murder conviction as prosecutors challenge his guilty verdict as he uncovers other suspects in the homicide and the homicide used against him at trial Unreliable evidence.
Saying her ruling was in the “interest of justice and fairness,” Phinn ordered Syed’s release on GPS monitors, while the Baltimore State Attorney’s Office chose whether to drop the charges against him or try him again for the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Prosecutors have 30 days to make a decision.
Prosecutors said a year-long investigation with Saeed’s lawyer Erika Sut revealed that authorities knew of at least one alternate suspect before his trial and withheld that information from his defense. Despite the developments, prosecutors said they were not ready to acquit Syed.
Lee, 18, was strangled and buried in a secret grave in Leakin Park. At the time, authorities said they suspected her ex-boyfriend Syed had an argument with her in the car before killing her. State theory? When Lee broke up with him, the popular honors student at Woodlawn High couldn’t handle it. He was 17 when he was arrested and has been in jail ever since.
Said, 41, has maintained his innocence. Suter acquitted her client in court and accused prosecutors of withholding provable evidence for decades.
“If this evidence were revealed, maybe Adnan wouldn’t have missed his high school graduation, or his pre-med program, or 23 years of birthdays, vacations, family reunions, community events, and every day happy hour,” Souter said. said in court.
Syed was stoic when Finn ruled; his family gasped, cried and hugged. When the judge adjourned, the audience erupted.
The hearing became tense after lawyers representing Lee’s relatives asked to postpone the hearing, saying his client who lives on the West Coast had not been given enough notice to attend the hearing. Phinn denied the motion, but suspended proceedings for 30 minutes so that Lee’s brother could find a private place to listen to the hearing by video.
Li Yang, who was allowed to speak before his lawyer, said he was caught off guard and betrayed by the prosecution’s decision to wrongfully convict Syed. He choked up as he spoke to the judge.
“It’s not a podcast to me. It’s real life,” Young Lee told Phinn.
Lee said he respected the criminal justice system, but he and his relatives described lasting grief. He said Syed’s beliefs should stand.
“Every day when I think it’s over…it always comes back,” he said. “It’s so painful.”
Assistant State Attorney Becky Feldman told the court that prosecutors’ decisions on how to handle Syed’s case depended on ongoing investigations against other suspects. Baltimore police have reopened their investigation into Lee’s homicide, and Feldman has promised her office will allocate all possible resources.
“We need to make sure we hold the right people accountable,” Feldman said.
In the state’s motion to overturn his conviction, prosecutors wrote that they were not saying they believed Syed was innocent, but that they no longer believed in the integrity of his conviction.
“In the interest of justice and fairness, these convictions are quashed and at least a new trial for the accused,” wrote Becky Feldman, head of the sentencing review division at the state attorney’s office.
Said’s first trial in 1999 ended in failure. In 2000, a jury found him guilty of murder. The judge handed down a sentence of life and 30 years in prison.
Despite efforts to uphold the conviction over the past few years, prosecutors now say Syed may not have been Lee’s killer. According to their motion to vacate his conviction, the state has known since 1999 that two “substitute suspects” may have killed Lee.
One of the suspects had threatened her, saying “he will make her disappear”. He will kill her,” prosecutors wrote.
The state did not reveal alternate suspects for Syed’s defense before the trial, meaning his attorneys could not use the information to argue his innocence to the jury.
Prosecutors described one of the suspects as a serial rapist, saying the suspect was convicted of a string of sexual assaults after Saeed’s trial. Police found Lee’s car near the residence of one of the suspects, the state motion said.
Said was convicted in part because cellphone location data was later found to be unreliable, according to prosecutors. They also highlighted inconsistent statements from his co-defendant Jay Wilds, who testified against him.
“Given the appalling lack of credible evidence implicated in Mr. Syed, coupled with the growing body of evidence pointing to other suspects, this unjust conviction is untenable,” Syed’s attorney and Baltimore Suter, director of the University Law School’s Innocence Project Clinic.
Syed’s conviction became an international conspiracy following “Serialization” of the podcast that pioneered the true crime genre, released in 2014, raising new questions about Lee’s death. Since then, his legal journey has been the subject of books, other podcasts and TV documentaries that have spawned new legal documents in his case.
The court dismissed all of his appeals, the last time in 2019, when the Supreme Court declined to hear his case.
Everything was peaceful until this spring.
Behind the scenes, Souter has been working with prosecutors to reduce Syed’s sentence under a new state law that would allow those convicted before the age of 18 to ask the court to revise their sentences.
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In reviewing the case, prosecutors agreed to require new DNA testing of items collected as evidence of Li’s killing.
Court documents show Fein ordered tests in March, but the results have so far been inconclusive. Testing of some projects is pending.
Lee’s family has always been convinced of Syed’s guilt and has been grappling with the publicity and support Syed has received.
“It’s still hard to see so many people running to defend those who committed horrific crimes, destroyed our families, and refused to take responsibility, while few are willing to speak up for Hae,” the family said in a statement released in 2016. . Maryland Attorney General’s Office.
“Unlike those who read about the case on the Internet,” the family said at the time, “we sat down and watched two trials a day — lots of witnesses, lots of evidence.”
Since then, until Monday, the Lee family has not spoken publicly about the case.
This story will be updated.