“Serial” Subject Adnan Syed's Murder Conviction Vacated, Released from Prison After Decades

Adnan Syed Conviction Overturned, Released from Prison
Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

After over two decades behind bars, Adnan Syed has been released. The subject of the first season of Sarah Koenig’s “Serial” podcast had his murder conviction in the case of the 1999 killing of Baltimore Woodlawn High School student Hae Min Lee vacated on Sept. 19, ABC News reported. Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Sentencing Review Unit (SRU) Chief Becky Feldman had filed a motion on Sept. 14 announcing they would file for the conviction to be vacated and for Syed to potentially receive a new trial.

“Since the inception of my administration, my prosecutors have been sworn to not only aggressively advocate on behalf of the victims of crime, but in the pursuit of justice, – when the evidence exists- to correct the wrongs of the past where doubt is evident,” said Mosby in a Sept. 14 statement. “For that reason, after a nearly year-long investigation reviewing the facts of this case, Syed deserves a new trial where he is adequately represented and the latest evidence can be presented. As stewards of the court, we are obligated to uphold confidence in the integrity of convictions and do our part to correct when this standard has been comprised. We have spoken with the family of Ms Hae Min Lee and fully understand that the person responsible for this heinous crime must be held accountable.”

Prosecutors will now have 30 days to opt to either retry the case or to drop the charges completely. Mosby said in her previous statement that the city state’s attorney’s office was not asserting that Syed is innocent, but rather that the integrity of his initial trial is in question.

Koenig’s investigation in “Serial” in 2014 focused on the conviction of Syed, Lee’s classmate and ex-boyfriend, and raised questions about the circumstances surrounding his arrest. Now 41, Syed began serving his life sentence at age 17. When “Serial” first began, Syed had already been in jail for 15 years.

On Sept. 19, Judge Melissa M. Phinn of Baltimore City Circuit ordered Syed to home detention while prosecutors decide whether or not to pursue a new trial, the New York Times reported. Lee’s family was unhappy with the motion to vacate and unsuccessfully attempted to postpone the decision. The city state’s attorney’s office did not immediately respond to POPSUGAR’s request for comment.

This is not the first time Syed’s conviction has been vacated. In June 2016, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Martin Welch took evidence uncovered in the podcast and overturned his sentence. Syed was granted a new trial on the reasoning that his former trial attorney failed to cross-examine the prosecution’s cell tower expert who used location data for incoming calls to corroborate a witness claiming to have helped Syed bury Lee’s body.

Since 2016, there’s been a lot of legal back and forth and many setbacks. The state appealed after the petition for a new trial was granted, and in March 2018, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision for a retrial. The state appealed again to Maryland’s top court. The Court of Appeals agreed to hear both the state’s appeal and Syed’s counter-appeals in July 2018. In 2019, the Court of Appeals reinstated Syed’s murder conviction, ruling that he didn’t deserve a new trial. The 4-3 vote determined that while Syed’s defence was “deficient” during his 2000 murder trial, it “did not prejudice” the case, meaning the evidence against him was strong.

After a change in Maryland law, Mosby’s office opened the in-depth investigation that led to Monday’s decision to vacate. As part of this investigation, two alternative suspects had been identified.

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