Judge overturns murder conviction of Serial subject Adnan Syed

The Case Against Adnan Syed

The Case Against Adnan Syed
Photo: HBO

After serving more than 20 years in prison, Adnan Syed has been released and a judge in Baltimore has overturned his conviction for the murder of former girlfriend and high school classmate He Min Lee. Syed and his case were the subject of the first season of Serial in 2014, one of the first truly mainstream podcasts and an undeniably huge factor in the current popularity of true crime stories. The podcast, initially a spin-off of This American Life and hosted by journalist Sara Koenig, tried to solve the mystery of whether or not Syed was really guilty after several inconsistencies in the prosecution’s arguments and several compelling alternative theories had come to light, with Koenig herself famously wrestling from episode to episode with whether or not Syed was really guilty or whether he was just a deeply unlucky kid who got railroaded by a corrupt system.

Now, several years and additional documentaries later—including director Amy Berg’s The Case Against Adnan Syed for HBO in 2019—The New York Times is reporting that Baltimore Judge Melissa M. Phinn has agreed to vacate the charges against Syed “in the interests of fairness and justice” after prosecutors decided earlier this month that “the state no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction.” The key factor in all of this is that prosecutors at the time “failed to turn over evidence that could have helped Mr. Syed at trial,” including the existence of two possible other suspects (who have not been named or charged) and the discovery of “new evidence that could have affected the outcome of [Syed’s] case.”

Essentially, this is the outcome that Serial was building toward during Koenig’s whole initial investigation, which often highlighted the unfortunate coincidences and circumstances before and after his trial that often made him seem more guilty than he actually might have been. Naturally, a tweet from the podcast (which has since been acquired by The New York Times) says that Koenig was not only at the courthouse today when Syed was released but that a new episode of the show is coming tomorrow—so we won’t have to wait too long to hear her take on this.

The prosecutors who pushed for this and doubted the “integrity of the conviction” maintain that they don’t necessarily think Syed is innocent, and the judge has given them 30 days to either drop the charges against him or move forward with a new trial. Meanwhile, the family of Hae Min Lee—who, unfortunately, tends to get lost in all of the big drama surrounding this case—have argued that they did not get “adequate notice” that the state was planning to vacate the conviction, with the family’s attorney apparently having “scrambled” to call Lee’s brother, Young Lee, to get him to join the hearing today via Zoom.

In what the Times refers to as a “wavering” voice, Lee said, “this is not a podcast for me. This is real life—a never-ending nightmare for 20-plus years.” He went on to say, “whenever I think it’s over, and it’s ended, it always comes back,” and “it’s killing me and killing my mother.” In a statement, a prosecutor said that their investigation has “acknowledged justice has been denied to Ms. Lee and her family by not assuring the correct assailant was brought to justice.”

As for those other suspects, we know that one was convicted of “attacking a woman in her vehicle” and another was convicted of “engaging in serial rape and sexual assault,” and that Hae Min Lee’s car was found “directly behind the house of one of the suspects’ family members.” Apparently, the prosecutors even had a witness saying that one of the people had threatened to make Lee “disappear” and that they would “kill her,” while another person had some kind of additional information that “can be viewed as a motive for that same suspect to harm the victim”—with none of that being mentioned in the trial or being presented to the defense, which apparently violates a Supreme Court ruling that specifically bars prosecutors from holding back evidence that could help the accused.

And now, for the first time in years, the whole podcast-listening world is once again collectively waiting to download Serial tomorrow morning.

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