BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore judge on Monday ordered Adnan Syed freed after overturning Syed’s conviction for the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee — a case chronicled in the hit podcast “Series, ” true crime series that moved audiences and changed the genre.
At the behest of prosecutors who revealed new evidence, Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn ordered Syed’s conviction vacated as she allowed the release of the now 41-year-old who has served more than two decades behind bars. The courtroom was full of cheers and applause as the judge announced her decision.
Phinn ruled that the state breached its legal obligation to share evidence that could support Syed’s defense. She ordered that Syed be placed under house arrest with GPS location monitoring. The judge also said the state must decide whether to seek a new trial date or dismiss the case within 30 days.
“Okay, Mr. Syed, you are allowed to join your family,” Phinn said as the hearing ended.
Moments later, Syed emerged from the courthouse with a small smile on his face as he was shepherded to a waiting SUV through a sea of cameras and a crowd of cheering supporters.
Syed has always maintained his innocence. His case captured the attention of millions in 2014 when the first season of “Serial” focused on Lee’s killing and cast doubt on some of the evidence used by prosecutors, sparking heated debates over dinner tables and water coolers about innocence. or Syed’s guilt.
Last week, prosecutors filed a motion saying a lengthy defense investigation had turned up new evidence that could undermine the 2000 conviction of Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend.
“I understand how difficult this is, but we have to make sure the right person is held accountable,” assistant state’s attorney Becky Feldman told the judge as she described the various details of the case involving the a decades-old basis of conviction, including other suspects, faulty cell phone data, unreliable witness testimony and a potentially biased detective.
After the hearing, State Attorney Marilyn Mosby said investigators are awaiting the results of “DNA analysis” before deciding whether to seek a new trial date or toss the case against Syed and “confirm his innocence.”
Syed was serving a life sentence after being convicted of strangling 18-year-old Lee, whose body was found buried in a park in Baltimore.
The investigation revealed “undisclosed and newly developed information regarding two suspects, as well as unreliable cellphone tower data,” Mosby’s office said in a news release last week. People who were known to the suspects at the time of the initial investigation, but were not properly excluded or disclosed to the defense, said prosecutors, who declined to release information about the suspects. because of the ongoing investigation.
Prosecutors said they were not declaring Syed innocent, but that they did not trust “the integrity of the conviction” and recommended that he be released on his own recognizance or bail. The state’s attorney’s office said if the motion was granted, it would grant Syed a new trial status, vacating his convictions, while the case was still active.
Syed was led into the crowded courtroom in handcuffs on Monday. Wearing a white shirt and tie, he sat next to his attorney. His mother and other representatives of the family were in the room, as was Mosby.
In 2016, a lower court ordered a retrial for Syed on the grounds that her attorney, Cristina 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 opinion. The Court of Appeal agreed with a lower court that Syed’s legal counsel was deficient in failing to investigate an alibi witness, but did not agree that the deficiency prejudiced the case. The court said Syed waived his ineffective counsel claim.
The US Supreme Court declined to review Syed’s case in 2019.
The true-crime series was the brainchild of longtime radio producer and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, who spent more than a year digging into Syed’s case and reporting her findings almost in real time in hourly segments. The 12-episode podcast won a Peabody Award and was revolutionary in popularizing podcasts for a wide audience.
During the hearing, Hae Min Lee’s brother, Young Lee, spoke to the court, saying that he feels betrayed by prosecutors, since he thought the case was settled.
“This is not a podcast for me. This is the real world,” he said.
Speaking outside the courthouse after the ruling, Mosby expressed sympathy for Lee’s brother and said she understands why he feels betrayed.
“But I also understand the importance of the administration of the criminal justice system to ensure equality and justice and fairness. That is the defendant’s right, too,” she said.