Warning: This article deals with the topic of domestic violence and sexual assault. It could be triggering for some readers.
Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering Hae Min Lee at the age of 17, has had his charges reinstated. This is after he was released from prison in 2022.
An appeals court in the US state of Maryland overturned a lower court’s decision to vacate his 2000 conviction for murder last year. This is because they found that the Lee family’s rights to attend a hearing were violated.
“We vacate the circuit court’s order vacating Mr. Syed’s convictions, which results in the reinstatement of the original convictions and sentence,” the court filing said.
“We remand for a new, legally compliant, and transparent hearing on the motion to vacate, where Mr Lee is given notice of the hearing that is sufficient to allow him to attend in person, evidence supporting the motion to vacate is presented, and the court states its reasons in support of its decision.”
Syed and the circumstances surrounding the death of Lee in 1999 were the focus of the wildly popular podcast Serial. In this podcast the journalist Sarah Koenig reported on inconsistencies of Syed’s case.
Serial arguably kick-started the cold-case investigative journalism trend in podcasting and helped to grow the medium itself to the international phenomenon it is today.
Syed, who’s now 41 and has always maintained his innocence, was sentenced to a life sentence, plus 30 years in prison in Maryland. This was after he was convicted of strangling Lee to death in 2000.
He spent the following 22 years behind bars. However, in September of last year, Judge Melissa Phinn of the Circuit Court in Baltimore vacated his conviction and ordered Syed to be released from prison.
Following a year-long investigation, prosecutors at the time said that they “no longer have confidence in the integrity of the conviction.” In a motion, the state’s attorney for Baltimore City said that “new evidence” pointed to the possible involvement of two alternative suspects. In addition, they believe the evidence used in the conviction of Syed was no longer reliable.
The Judge ruled that the state violated its legal obligation to share evidence that could have resulted in his acquittal in the year 2000. It was revealed that the evidence pointing to the involvement of two other suspects was withheld from the Defence during the trial.
Yet, while this is the case, Phinn’s ruling may not be of much comfort to Syed now.
The Case Against Adnan Syed
Syed’s case has become one of the most highly studied cold-case murders of all time, also becoming the focus of a 2019 documentary series by HBO, The Case Against Adnan Syed.
In the September filing, prosecutors actually cited the HBO series in their case for overturning his conviction, saying that a key witness demonstrated herself to be unreliable on the show.
The filing also showed, incredibly, that the state had evidence at the time of Syed’s conviction that one of the new suspects in the case “had a motive to kill the victim” and that they said they would “make her disappear” and “kill her,” according to first-hand witness testimony. This was not disclosed to the defence team at the time, which may well have swayed the outcome of the case.
“This information was not available to the Defendant in his trial in 2000, and the State believes it would have provided persuasive support substantiating the defence that another person was responsible for the victim’s death,” prosecutors said in their September filing.
One of the suspects, neither of whom have been named for legal reasons, later went on to attack a woman, and the other was later convicted of sexual assault.
The filing also called into question the reliability of key witness testimony and mobile phone tower data that was used to convict Syed. Much of the prosecution’s original case was based on the evidence given by ‘Jay’, who said that Syed confessed to the killing to him and that he helped him bury Lee’s body.
Similar events have happened in the history of this case, although not to this extent. In 2016, Syed’s conviction was also vacated and a new trial was ordered, but that decision was ultimately overturned by the state in 2019.
Some Info About Sarah Koenig
As previously mentioned, Sarah Koenig was the journalist who hosted and ran the Serial podcast. Koenig has said that she never planned to exonerate Syed, only to report on what had happened and remind her audience of the difficulties and care needed in legal decision-making. She ended her podcast series with indecision, saying that we simply don’t have the evidence one way or another. However, she does say that if she were a juror in the case, she’d “have to acquit.”
Some Info About the Lee Family
Lee’s parents have previously said that they believe “justice was done” when Syed was convicted in 2000 and admonished fans of the show for “celebrating” the man who they believe killed their daughter.
Young Lee, the brother of Hae Min, said at the court hearing that vacated Syed’s conviction that he felt betrayed by prosecutors as he believed that the case had been settled. He also decried the media attention given to his sister’s death.
“This is not a podcast for me. This is real life,” he said.
What Happens to Syed Now
Since walking free in October, Syed was hired by Georgetown Univerity’s Prisons and Justice Initiative, where he has worked as a programme associate on prison reform.
The new ruling may just be a technicality, and Syed’s new conviction could yet again be overturned when a re-run of the hearing is conducted.
Syed’s attorney has released a statement saying that, as of now, he remains a free man.
If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) — the National Sexual Assault, domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service.