Adnan Syed: murder conviction featured in Serial podcast overturned by US judge

Adnan Syed has been freed after spending more than two decades behind bars after being accused of the murder of Hae Min Lee.

A US judge has ordered the release of Adnan Syed after overturning his murder conviction that was chronicled in the hit podcast Serial.

Mr Syed was aged 17 when he was sentenced to life in prison in 2000 for the murder of his girlfriend Hae Min Lee, who was strangled and buried in a Baltimore park in 1999.

On Monday (19 September), Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn ordered that Mr Syed’s conviction be vacated  "in the interest of fairness and justice".

Prosecutors said there were two other possible suspects who were never disclosed to the defence at trial, with Judge Phinn ruling that the state violated its legal obligation to share exculpatory evidence with Mr Syed’s defence.

She ordered the release of the 41-year-old, who has spent more than two decades behind bars, from custody and placed him on home detention with an electronic tag. Judge Phinn also ordered the state to decide whether to seek a new trial date or dismiss the case within 30 days.

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)

Advertisement

As the hearing ended, she said: “All right Mr Syed, you’re free to join your family.”

Mr Syed has always maintained his innocence and has been appealing his conviction for years.

The case received global attention in 2014 when the debut season of hit podcast Serial focused on Ms Lee’s killing, raising doubts about some of the evidence prosecutors used and inspiring countless debates about Mr Syed’s innocence or guilt.

Serial suggested that evidence unearthed from witness Asia McClain could have corroborated Mr Syed’s account that he was in the library at the time of the killing.

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.

Advertisement

New evidence uncovered

Last week, 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, who was Ms Lee’s ex-boyfriend.

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

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 last week.

The suspects were known persons at the time of the original investigation, but were not properly ruled out or disclosed to the defence, said prosecutors, who declined to release information about the suspects due to the ongoing investigation.

Advertisement

Prosecutors said they were not asserting that Mr Syed is innocent, but they lacked confidence “in the integrity of the conviction” and recommended he be released on his own recognisance or bail.

Lead prosecutor Ms Mosby said outside the court: “Our prosecutors have been sworn to not only aggressively advocate on behalf of victims of crime but when the evidence exists to exonerate those that have been falsely accused and convicted.”