Adnan Syed, the Baltimore man sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, was released on Monday after a judge overturned his conviction over material shortcomings.
City Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn said trial prosecutors failed to properly turn over evidence to defense lawyers that could have pointed to other suspects in Lee’s murder. A year-long case review resulted in two alternative suspects.
Syed was found guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment in 2000. Prosecutors painted him as a scorned lover who strangled Lee to death with the help of a friend before hiding her body in Leakin Park. The case became the subject of the first season of the hit podcast “Serial,” which sparked a true-crime podcasting fever. A 2019 HBO docuseries titled “The Case Against Adnan Syed” also offered a closer look into the matter.
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Syed, who was released into home detention, had been behind bars for 23 years. Judge Phinn’s decision on Monday does not indicate Syed’s innocence; rather, he will now face the possibility of a new trial.
“We’re not yet declaring Adnan Syed is innocent,” Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said after the ruling. “But we are declaring that in the interest of fairness and justice he is entitled to a new trial.”
Phinn gave prosecutors 30 days to decide whether to push for a new trial or stop the case. The state is reportedly waiting for DNA analysis that could establish Syed’s connection to Lee’s murder.
Meanwhile, Lee’s family is shocked at the turn of events.
“I’ve been living with this for, like, 20-plus years, and every day when I think it’s over, whenever I think it’s over or it’s ended, it always comes back,” her brother, Young, told the court via Zoom. “And it’s not just me. It’s killing me, and it’s killing my mother.”
Neither of the two alternative suspects — who have been identified since 1999 — were named on Monday. However, both were reportedly documented as having been violent toward women.