(Baltimore) A US judge on Monday overturned the conviction of a man who has been held for 23 years in a murder he has always denied, a case that is the focus of the worldwide hit podcast Serial.
Posted at 5:07pm
Updated at 6:34 p.m
Adnan Syed, 42, was sentenced to life in prison in 2000 for the murder of his former girlfriend Hae Min Lee in Baltimore on the East Coast of the United States.
In an unexpected turn of events, city prosecutor Marilyn Mosby last week filed a motion to have the sentence overturned, saying she had doubts about Adnan Syed’s guilt and asking for his release.
Mme Mosby said he discovered the existence of “two alternate suspects,” critical information that was poorly used at the time and, importantly, was not shared with the defense before the trial.
On Monday, a judge upheld the prosecutor’s request during a hearing in a crowded courtroom in Baltimore.
“In the interest of justice and fairness, the motion will be granted and the defendant will be released” and given an electronic bracelet, Judge Melissa Phinn said.
Agents then removed Adnan Syed’s restraints while part of the room applauded before being called to order. The full beard and the cap-covered head showed no reaction.
“He can’t believe it’s true” and “now wants to spend time with his family,” his attorney Erica Suter confided outside the courthouse as his client stormed into a car without a word.
Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby insisted that the judiciary “has not yet found Adnan Syed innocent” and that she will await the results of additional DNA tests before deciding whether to drop the charges against him or organize a new trial.
She has 30 days to do this. Regardless of her decision, she vowed to continue the investigation “to make sure Hae Min Lee’s family knows the perpetrator for sure.”
During the hearing, the young woman’s brother, Young Lee, spoke over the phone to express his dismay. Saying “living a nightmare that never ends,” he confided he felt “cheated” by prosecutors who claimed for years to hold the good culprit before finally changing his mind.
The case began in February 1999 when police found the body of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee half-buried in a Baltimore forest. Adnan Syed was arrested at the age of 17 and sentenced to life imprisonment a year later.
According to prosecutors, he did not support her leaving him for someone else and strangling her. He has always maintained his innocence and claimed to be a victim of anti-Muslim prejudice.
In 2014, a team of journalists conducted a counter-investigation, which was narrated in twelve episodes in the first season Serial. A precursor to the podcast era, this radio soap opera has been downloaded more than 300 million times, according to its producers. It also inspired an HBO documentary.
Research by journalists Serial had shown that Adnan Syed’s lawyer had neglected a cell phone report favorable to the defendant and the testimony of a young girl who had offered him a possible alibi.
Her work led to a retrial of the case, and in March 2018, a Maryland appeals court ordered a new trial, finding that her client’s attorney had provided “ineffective assistance.”
In March 2019, the Maryland Supreme Court recognized that the attorney wrongly failed to produce certain elements, but estimated that the verdict would not have been different “given the body of the evidence” had she included it. You have therefore rejected the organization of a new process.
Adnan Syed’s defense then turned to the United States Supreme Court. In 2019, she refused to intervene, dashed her hopes of being released.
But the Baltimore Attorney, who has a service dedicated to correcting miscarriages of justice, reopened the case, ultimately causing this latest court reversal.
A new episode of Serial will air on Tuesday morning, the production team announced on its Twitter account on Monday.