Adnan Syed was released from prison after serving 23 years for the murder of Hae Min Lee, after a Baltimore judge threw out the case on Monday. As his story continues, so does the true crime podcast “Serial,” which popularized the case and made Syed a household name in its first season, investigating the murder.
Returning to the mic Tuesday morning with the first new “Series” episode of 2018 was Sarah Koenig, who was in Baltimore City Circuit Court when Syed was released Monday. Prosecutors were given 30 days to decide whether to move forward for a new trial or drop the case against Syed, now 41.
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Here are the key takeaways from the all-new episode of “Serial”:
Prosecutors are not saying Adnan Syed is innocent
Although Syed has been released from prison and placed under house arrest, prosecutors are not freeing him. Rather, “they’re saying, back in 1999, we didn’t thoroughly investigate this case. We relied on evidence we shouldn’t have, and we broke the rules when we prosecuted. This was not an honest conviction,” Koenig reports.
Koenig also says that the prosecutor’s office didn’t set out to take Syed’s case down, and that “it kind of crumbled when they took a hard look.”
Youth Reform Act
About a year ago, Maryland enacted the Youth Reform Act. It allows those who have spent at least 20 years in prison for a crime they committed when they were young to ask the court to reduce their sentence. Syed was 17 when he was arrested for killing Lee. On October 2, 2021, one day after the law went into effect, Syed’s attorney, Erica Suter, took her case to the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.
A new prosecutor looks at the case
Suter’s request went to Becky Feldman, head of the sentencing review unit for the prosecutor’s office. Although Feldman previously served as a public defender in Baltimore for several years, she is relatively new to the prosecution side (her LinkedIn profile indicates that she started there in December 2020). So Feldman examined Syed’s case with a fresh set of eyes and began “pulling threads” with Suter. In March, Feldman’s office asked a judge to order a new high-tech DNA test (the results came back in August and “were nothing conclusive or useful”). While they waited for that, she consulted cell phone and polygraph experts and investigated Google Maps and land records.
While looking through Syed’s massive case file, Feldman found handwritten notes that pointed to other suspects. Suter testified that they had never seen the notes before, but detectives were aware of them at the time. Although the notes are undated, they appear to have been written by a prosecutor before Syed’s trial. The notes detail phone calls from two different people giving information to the State’s Attorney’s Office about the same person, who apparently had a motive to kill Lee and was heard saying he would “make her disappear” and “a kill.”
Feldman said the state found the information in these notes to be credible. Since it appears that Syed’s attorneys were not notified of these calls, the state may have committed a gross violation by not turning over this evidence to the defense, which requires a Brady violation.
Koenig did not name either of the two new suspects, as neither has been charged with a crime, but indicated that “one or both of them have a relevant criminal history, mostly crimes committed after Adnan’s trial, one of them for a series of sex. attacks.” One of the suspects is currently in prison for sexual assault. One of them is connected to the location where Lee disappeared. Both were investigated at the time of Syed’s trial, but “not with much enthusiasm, as far as I can tell,” Koenig says.
Feldman files a motion to resign
Due to the “bouquet of problems” associated with Syed’s case, Feldman filed a motion to vacate, as the state “could no longer justify keeping Adnan in prison.”
Jay’s story is no different
“Serial” listeners will remember “star witness” Jay Wilds, Syed’s friend from high school who told the state that Syed killed Lee and showed him her body, then demanded Wilds help bury her in a city park. Throughout the podcast, Koenig notes how Wilds’ story continued to evolve. In motioning to leave, Feldman pointed to one striking example: the scene where Wilds claims Syed showed him Lee’s body changed three times during the investigation.
The state knew Wilds’ testimony was shaky at the time, but relied on cellphone records to corroborate it. After speaking with cell phone experts, Feldman stated in her motion to vacate that the evidence is unreliable, and that the state cannot use incoming call records to corroborate Wilds’ story.
A problematic detective
Feldman also included in her offer an article about Bill Ritz, who was one of the two lead detectives on the Syed case. Ritz faced allegations of misconduct in another murder case that went to trial the same year Syed was charged. He was accused of “manipulating evidence, fabricating evidence, not disclosing evidence, not continuing evidence presented by another suspect.” As Koenig notes, “Ritz was one of the two detectives who interviewed Jay Wilds several times.” In 2016, the suspect convicted in another Ritz case was acquitted.
It is unclear what will happen next, but Syed will likely remain free
The state has 30 days to decide whether to move for a new trial or drop the case against Syed. But as Koenig predicted, “it’s very unlikely that the state will ever try to prosecute Adnan again.”
Listen to the full episode below.
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