BALTIMORE – A Baltimore judge on Monday ordered the release of Adnan Syed after Syed’s conviction for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee was overturned, a case that was featured on the hit podcast Serial.
At the behest of prosecutors, District Court Judge Melissa Finn ordered Syed’s conviction overturned and she approved the release of the now 41-year-old, who has spent more than two decades behind bars.
Finn ruled that the state breached its legal duty to share exculpatory evidence with Syed’s defense. She released him from custody and placed him under house arrest with GPS tracking. She also ordered the state to decide whether to request a new trial date or dismiss the case within 30 days.
Syed, who has always maintained his innocence, received widespread attention in 2014 when the debut season of Serial focused on killing Lee and raised doubts about some of the evidence prosecutors used, inspiring countless debates at the table about Syed’s innocence or guilt.
Last week, prosecutors filed a motion saying a lengthy investigation conducted with the defense turned up new evidence that could undermine the 2000 conviction of Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend.
Syed was serving a life sentence after being convicted of strangling 18-year-old Lee, whose body was found buried in a Baltimore park.
The investigation “revealed undisclosed and newly developed information regarding two alternate suspects, as well as unreliable data from cell phone towers,” State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office said in a news release last week. The suspects were known during the initial investigation but were not properly excluded nor disclosed to the defense, said prosecutors, who declined to release information about the suspects because of the ongoing investigation.
Prosecutors said they did not claim Syed was innocent but lacked confidence “in the integrity of the sentence” and recommended he be released on his own signature or bond. The state’s attorney’s office said that if the request is granted, it would effectively put Syed in a new legal status, overturning his convictions while the case remains active.
Syed was led into the packed courtroom in handcuffs on Monday. Dressed in a white shirt and tie, he sat next to his lawyer. His mother and other family members were in the room, as was Mosby.
In 2016, a lower court ordered reconsideration for Syed on grounds that his attorney, Christina Gutierrez, who died in 2004, failed to contact an alibi witness and provided ineffective counsel.
But after a series of appeals, Maryland’s highest court in 2019 denied a new trial in a 4-3 decision. The appeals court agreed with a lower court that Syed’s attorney was deficient in failing to investigate an alibi witness, but disagreed that the deficiency prejudiced the case. The court said Syed was waiving his claim of ineffective counsel.
The US Supreme Court declined to review Syed’s case in 2019.
The true crime series is the brainchild of the longtime radio producer and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, which spent more than a year digging into Syed’s case and reporting its findings in near-real time in hourly segments. The 12-episode podcast won a Peabody Award and was transformative in promoting podcasting to a wide audience.
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