Serial podcast case: Adnan Syed released, murder conviction tossed


“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 other suspects, flawed cellphone data, unreliable witness testimony and a potentially biased detective.

After the hearing, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said investigators are waiting for the results of “DNA analysis” before determining whether to seek a new trial date or throw out the case against Syed and “certify his innocence”.

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”, Mosby’s office said in a news release last week. The other suspects were known persons at the time of the original investigation, but weren’t properly ruled out nor disclosed to the defence, said prosecutors, who declined to release information about the suspects, due to the ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors said they weren’t asserting that Syed is innocent, but they lacked confidence “in the integrity of the conviction” and recommended his release on his own recognisance 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 on 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 the 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.

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 popularising podcasts for a wide audience.

During the hearing, Hae Min Lee’s brother Young Lee spoke to the court, saying he feels betrayed by prosecutors, since he thought the case was settled.

“This is not a podcast for me. This is real life,” he said.

Speaking outside the courthouse after the ruling, Mosby expressed sympathy for Lee’s brother and said she understands why he feels betrayed.

“But I also understand the importance as the administer of the criminal justice system to ensure equality and justice and fairness. That is entitled to the defendant, as well,” she added.



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