Adnan Syed: murder conviction reinstated in case which featured in Serial podcast

Adnan Syed’s murder conviction has been reinstated following an appeal by Hae Min Lee’s family.

A court in Maryland, US, has reinstated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, the man whose alleged involvement in the 1999 murder of 17-year-old Hae Min Lee was the subject of the hit podcast Serial.

Syed was convicted of murdering Ms Lee in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison. However, in September 2022, prosecutors said they had uncovered new evidence which undermined the conviction and pointed to two alternative suspects.

This led to all charges against the 41-year-old being dropped in October, with Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn saying the murder conviction had been overturned “in the interest of fairness and justice” - because the state had failed to turn over exculpatory evidence.

But late on Tuesday (28 March), a court in Maryland ruled that Syed’s murder conviction would be resinstated so a new hearing could be held. It follows an appeal from Ms Lee’s brother, Young Lee, who argued that prosecutors had violated the state law that requires them to give sufficient notice of hearings to victims or their representatives so they may attend in person.

The appeals ruled in favour of Mr Lee, saying that officials failed to provide sufficient notice. It said in a statement: “This court has the power and obligation to remedy those violations, as long as we can do so without violating Mr Syed’s right to be free from double jeopardy.”

Adnan Syed in prison during his life sentence which has since been vacatedAdnan Syed in prison during his life sentence which has since been vacated
Adnan Syed in prison during his life sentence which has since been vacated

The new ruling orders “a new, legally compliant, and transparent hearing on the motion to vacate, where Mr Lee is given notice of the hearing that is sufficient to allow him to attend in person, evidence supporting the motion to vacate is presented, and the court states its reasons in support of its decision”.

Many have said therefore that the ruling suggests Syed will not remain convicted for long, and that the reinstatement will be temporary until the hearing is repeated.

Lawyer Steve Kelly previously said Ms Lee’s family is not challenging Syed’s release, but instead wanted the judge to hold another hearing so that the family can attend in person and address the court.

Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed (Photo: HBO)Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed (Photo: HBO)
Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed (Photo: HBO)

Mr Syed was aged 17 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Lee, who was strangled and buried in a Baltimore park in 1999.

Despite spending more than two decades behind bars, Mr Syed has always maintained his innocence. He appealed against his conviction for years, an appeal which gained public support when the debut season of hit podcast Serial focused on the murder of Ms Lee.

Serial raised doubts about the evidence against Mr Syed, suggesting that witness Asia McClain could have corroborated Mr Syed’s account that he was in the library at the time of the killing. This prompted an online debate over his innocence or guilt.

The true-crime podcast was the brainchild of long-time radio producer and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, who spent more than a year digging into Mr Syed’s case and reporting her findings in almost real time in hour-long segments.

Adnan Syed’s attorney speaks outside a courthouse in Baltimore after a judge threw out the conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend (Photo: Getty Images)Adnan Syed’s attorney speaks outside a courthouse in Baltimore after a judge threw out the conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend (Photo: Getty Images)
Adnan Syed’s attorney speaks outside a courthouse in Baltimore after a judge threw out the conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend (Photo: Getty Images)

Two new suspects

Earlier in September, prosecutors filed a motion saying that a lengthy investigation conducted with the defence had uncovered new evidence that could undermine the conviction of Mr Syed.

Becky Feldman, chief of the Sentencing Review Unit, described to the judge details from the case that she said undermine the conviction, including flawed mobile phone data, unreliable witness testimony, and a potentially biased detective.

Journalist Sarah Koenig uncovered major issues with the investigation into Hae Min Lee’s murder (image: Getty Images)Journalist Sarah Koenig uncovered major issues with the investigation into Hae Min Lee’s murder (image: Getty Images)
Journalist Sarah Koenig uncovered major issues with the investigation into Hae Min Lee’s murder (image: Getty Images)

The investigation “revealed undisclosed and newly developed information regarding two alternative suspects, as well as unreliable cell phone tower data”, state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office said in a news release.

The two suspects may have been involved individually or together, the state’s attorney’s office added. One of the suspects had threatened Ms Lee, saying “he would make her disappear. He would kill her”, according to a court filing.

The suspects were known persons at the time of the original investigation and were not properly ruled out nor disclosed to the defence, prosecutors said. Prosecutors also said new information showed that one of the suspects was convicted of attacking a woman in her vehicle, and that one of the suspects was convicted of engaging in serial rape and sexual assault.

Prosecutors also noted unreliable mobile phone data used during Syed’s court case to corroborate his whereabouts on the day of the crime.