Maryland prosecutors ask judge to vacate Adnan Syed murder conviction

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A photo of Adnan Syed from 1998. MUST CREDIT: Courtesy of “Serial”

Baltimore prosecutors asked a judge on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, to vacate the conviction of Adnan Syed, whose murder case drew widespread attention after it was featured on the true crime podcast “Serial.”

Syed has long been seeking to overturn his conviction and get a new trial in the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, and has previously faced opposition from state authorities. But on Wednesday, the Baltimore City state’s attorney office said in a motion in circuit court that – while its investigation is ongoing – it had lost confidence in the conviction.

“To be clear, the State is not asserting at this time that Defendant is innocent,” prosecutors wrote. “However, for all the reasons set forth below, the State no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction.”

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Prosecutors wrote that Syed should “at a minimum, be afforded a new trial” and that he should be released while they continue to investigate.

Prosecutors said that a nearly year-long investigation by them and Syed’s defense uncovered new information about “the possible involvement of two alternative suspects,” and violations in the government’s turning over evidence to the defense.

“Additionally, the parties have identified significant reliability issues regarding the most critical pieces of evidence at trial,” prosecutors wrote.

Syed was a 17-year-old high school student when he was arrested in late February 1999 in Lee’s killing.

Syed’s story was the subject of the true-crime podcast “Serial,” which launched its first season in 2014. Host Sarah Koenig detailed the events surrounding the death of Lee, Syed’s former girlfriend. Lee’s body was found in Baltimore’s Leakin Park. Syed was convicted of murder in 2000 and has since been serving a life sentence. Syed maintains his innocence.

In 2016, a circuit court vacated Syed’s conviction, citing the “ineffective assistance” of a former attorney who failed to investigate an alibi witness, and in March 2018, the Court of Special Appeals upheld the ruling granting Syed a new trial. But in March 2019, Maryland’s highest court reinstated Syed’s murder conviction.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement Wednesday that she came to conclude Syed deserves a new trial “where he is adequately represented and the latest evidence can be presented.”

“As stewards of the court, we are obligated to uphold confidence in the integrity of convictions,” Mosby said. “. . . We have spoken with the family of Ms. Hae Min Lee and fully understand that the person responsible for this heinous crime must be held accountable.”

Syed’s defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Erica Suter, praised the development.

“Given the stunning lack of reliable evidence implicating Mr. Syed, coupled with increasing evidence pointing to other suspects, this unjust conviction cannot stand,” Suter said. “Mr. Syed is grateful that this information has finally seen the light of day and looks forward to his day in court.”

Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue took aim in particular at what she said were failures by the state to turn over evidence to Syed’s lawyers.

“The fact that information about motives and threats of alternate suspects were kept from defense counsel for more than 20 years should shock the conscience,” Dartigue said. “This is a true example of how justice delayed is justice denied. An innocent man spends decades wrongly incarcerated, while any information or evidence that could help identify the actual perpetrator becomes increasingly difficult to pursue.”

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