Sep 14, 2022 - Economy

"Serial" case: Prosecutors ask judge to vacate Adnan Syed's conviction

Photo of Adnan Syed in a blue prison jumpsuit being escorted behind bars by guards

Officials escort "Serial" podcast subject Adnan Syed from the courthouse on Feb. 3, 2016, following the first day of hearings for a retrial in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Baltimore City prosecutors are asking a judge to vacate Adnan Syed’s conviction for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee and requesting a new trial based on new evidence after a nearly yearlong investigation.

Why it matters: The case received nationwide attention after it became the subject of the first season of the hit podcast "Serial," which cast doubt on the original prosecution and key pieces of evidence used against Syed.

Details: The Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City said in a motion filed Wednesday that information about two possible alternative suspects makes a new trial necessary.

  • During their probe, prosecutors found in the state's trial file that one of the suspects had threatened to kill Lee and "make her disappear," according to the court filing.
  • The information was never handed over to the defense even though prosecutors are required to share exculpatory evidence upon request, Becky Feldman, chief of the state’s attorney’s Sentencing Review Unit, wrote in the motion.
  • They also discovered that Lee's car was found parked behind a house in Baltimore that belonged to one alternative suspect's relative, and that one suspect was convicted of serial rape after Syed's trial, per the filing.
  • The investigation further identified concerns with the reliability of cellphone records and data used in prosecution, as well as a key witness' testimony.

What they're saying: Syed is not necessarily innocent, but "the State no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction," Feldman said.

  • The state's attorney's office has recommended that Syed be released pending the investigation.
  • "[A]fter reviewing the evidence and the new information about alternative suspects, it is our duty to ensure that justice is done," Feldman noted.
  • "We believe that keeping him detained as we continue to investigate the case with everything that we know now, and when we do not have confidence in results of the first trial, would be unjust."
  • Mosby's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Wall Street Journal first reported the story.

The big picture: Syed, who maintains he is innocent, was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment in the murder of Lee, his ex-girlfriend, in 2000.

  • Though he was 17 when Lee died, he was charged as an adult.
  • A judge later ordered new DNA in the case after an attorney for Syed said in the HBO 2019 HBO docuseries "The Case Against Adnan Syed" that none of the 12 samples taken from Lee's body and car contained a trace of Syed's DNA, CNN notes.
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