After more than two decades—and one wildly successful podcast—Adnan Syed may finally have another opportunity to prove his innocence against allegations he murdered his high school ex-girlfriend.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn on Monday granted prosecutors’ request to vacate Syed’s conviction in connection with Hae Min Lee’s 1999 murder. In a Wednesday filing, prosecutors revealed that a lengthy investigation conducted in conjunction with Syed’s defense uncovered new evidence about two alternate suspects that could undermine the 42-year-old’s conviction.
Syed is currently serving a life sentence plus 30 years at the Patuxent Institution after being convicted of fatally strangling 18-year-old Lee, whose body was found in a Baltimore park in January 1999. The case was the focus of the first season of the hit podcast Serial and a 2019 HBO documentary that raised questions about Syed’s involvement and legal representation.
“No one has been able to provide any shred of evidence that I had anything but friendship towards her—like love and respect for her. I had no reason to kill her,” Syed insisted on Serial.
The publicity also spurred a national outcry over Syed’s convection and several attempts to revive his case. In 2016, Judge Martin Welch vacated Syed’s conviction and ordered a new trial—but that decision was ultimately overturned by the Maryland Court of Appeals three years later.
During Monday’s hearing, prosecutors argued that while they are not admitting Syed’s innocence, newly discovered information has given them a lack of confidence in his 2000 conviction. The Wednesday filing notes that prosecutors have doubt about cell phone records and two individuals who were not properly ruled out or disclosed to the defense during the initial 1999 murder investigation into Lee.
Steve Kelly, an attorney representing the Lee family, admonished the State’s Attorney’s Office in court for failing to provide his clients with adequate notice of the hearing. He then urged Phinn to postpone the hearing by a week so that Lee’s brother can attend in person—but the judge rejected the request.
Lee, who emigrated with her family to the United States from South Korea and attended Woodlyn High School, went missing on Jan. 13, 1999. Her body was discovered on Feb. 9 at Leakin Park. Days later, the Baltimore City Police Department received an anonymous tip pinning the murder on Syed, who was eventually arrested at the end of that month.
But prosecutors mentioned in the latest filing that one of the alternate suspects said at the time of Lee’s murder that “he would make [Lee] disappear. He would kill her.” The two suspects were not named in the filing.
“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,” Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement last week. “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 on Wednesday asked for Syed to be released on his own recognizance or on bail. According to Maryland law, prosecutors have about 30 days after a vacated conviction to decide whether to drop the charges against Syed or to retry the case.
“We believe that keeping Mr. Syed detained as we continue to investigate the case with everything that we know now, when we do not have confidence in results of the first trial, would be unjust,” Mosby added.