Adnan Syed was convicted for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee in 1999.
Syed has maintained his innocence since he was convicted, and over two decades later, his sentence was overturned by a Maryland judge on September 19, 2022.
Who is Adnan Syed?
Born May 21, 1981, Adnan Syed made headlines as a for the murder of his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.
In 1999, Lee was found dead in a shallow grave in a Baltimore park at the age of 17.
At the time, the prosecution argued that Syed, a gifted and popular student, then aged 18, had strangled Lee in a fit of rage because he was annoyed she’d dumped him.
Despite denying the allegations in February 2000, Syed – a Muslim of Pakistani descent – was convicted of first-degree murder.
Is he still in prison?
Syed was ultimately sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for the death of Lee.
Since his conviction, he has attempted to get his conviction overturned with no luck.
In 2018 an appeals court vacated his conviction stating that he had received ineffective legal counsel but the decision was later overturned in 2019 by Maryland’s highest court who also denied him a fresh trial.
That same year, his story was told on the true-crime podcast Serial which drew national attention after highlighting holes in the murder investigation.
While all hope had seemed lost for Syed and his legal team, in March 2022, they filed a motion requesting new DNA testing of Lee’s clothing, shoes, and rape kit, which was later granted.
“We are eager to finally have access to the forensic tools to establish Mr. Syed’s innocence,” defense attorney Erica J. Suter said in a statement to the media outlet.
“Mr. Syed has been waiting more than two decades for the opportunity to exonerate himself, not just in the court of public opinion, but in the court of law.
“We applaud the State’s Attorney for recognizing the serious concerns in his case, after several months of deliberation and review, and agreeing that DNA testing is needed.”
She posted a screenshot of PEOPLE’s story on Instagram story writing, “I cannot believe the DNA was not tested!!!! This is such a win for Adnan Syed!”
At this time, it remains unclear when the DNA test will be run.
Will Adnan Syed be released?
A judge overturned Syed’s murder conviction on September 19, 2022, after prosecutors in Baltimore, Maryland asked judges to vacate Syed’s conviction and requested that he be given a new trial.
Syed will now be released from prison and placed on home detention.
The request came after new evidence arose in a nearly year-long investigation which included the possibility of two new suspects and although the prosecution has not claimed that Syed is innocent, the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told The Wall Street Journal: “… For all the reasons set forth below, the State no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction.”
Prosecutors say the two possible suspects were identified at the time of the initial investigation in 1999 but were not properly ruled out.
While investigating the case, prosecutors found a court document that showed an interview with one of the suspects.
The court filing said the suspect had told investigators: “he would make her [Ms. Lee] disappear. He would kill her,” however the admission was never provided to the defense.
It was also noted that the defense was not given the information that Lee’s car was found in a grassy area behind one of the suspect’s house.
“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 defense that another person was responsible for the victim’s death,” prosecutors said in the court filing.
It is unclear if Syed will still remain in custody until after the possible retrial, but Mosby said: “… After reviewing the evidence and the new information about alternative suspects, it is our duty to ensure that justice is done.”
She continued: “We believe that keeping him detained as we continue to investigate the case with everything that we know now, and when we do not have confidence in the results of the first trial, would be unjust.”
Did Adnan have an alibi witness?
Over the years, Syed’s new legal team has filed a number of motions and raised multiple issues throughout the course of the original trial and investigation including the fact that an alibi witness was reportedly not asked to give evidence in court.
During the trial, one of his friends said he’d heard him confess to the murder, and went with him to the park to bury his ex-girlfriend’s body, however, this information is in conflict with revelations provided by another student, Asia McClain, who has claimed that she saw Syed in the library in Woodland, Maryland, on the afternoon of Lee’s disappearance, according to the BBC.
Despite this information, she was never called to the stand.
Referring to this omission, Court of Appeals Judge Clayton Greene concluded: “There is not a significant or substantial possibility that the verdict would have been different,” if Syed’s lawyer had presented the alibi witness, Asia McClain, who said she saw Syed around the time the state contended Syed killed Lee on January 13, 1999.
The court wrote: “Ms. McClain would have been an alibi witness who contradicted the defendant’s own statements, which were themselves already internally inconsistent; thus Ms. McClain’s proffered testimony could have further undermined Mr. Syed’s credibility.”
The appeals court found that McClain’s account focused on “a narrow window of time in the afternoon” of the day Lee disappeared.
It said her testimony wouldn’t have rebutted the state’s evidence about Syed’s actions that evening, and at best “would have highlighted Mr. Syed’s failure to account precisely for his whereabouts after school” that day.
What is the Serial podcast by Sarah Koenig about?
Syed’s story was publicized in the first season of Sarah Koenig’s 2014 podcast, Serial.
The show revealed little-known evidence and attracted millions of listeners.
Koening, a US journalist from New York who investigated the murder case in her popular podcast, created doubt over his conviction.
She revealed weaknesses in the evidence which was used to convict him and also raised questions about his defense lawyer, Maria Gutierrez, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis at the time.
Koenig also gave evidence that pointed to Ronald Lee Moore as the killer and not Syed.
Serial won a Peabody Award in April 2015 and was the fastest podcast in history to receive five million downloads, according to iTunes.
Millions of listeners became armchair detectives as the cult podcast — the fastest ever to pass five million downloads — illuminated holes in the case against Lee’s ex.
The saga of the 1999 killing, which until the podcast had just been a forgotten local US news story, was clearly ripe for a TV adaptation — and the only question was why it had taken so long.
Fast-forward to 2016, and a lower court ordered a retrial for Syed, on the grounds that his attorney — who died in 2004 — didn’t contact an alibi witness, and provided ineffective counsel, however, the state appealed.
The special appeals court upheld the lower court’s ruling last year, and the state successfully appealed that decision too.