A true-crime podcast creator who helped free a Maryland man imprisoned for two decades said Tuesday she has mixed feelings about how long it took authorities to act on long-available evidence.
The judge’s order to release Adnan Syed and vacate his murder conviction on Monday came after the local prosecutor started a sentencing review unit and Maryland’s new juvenile sentencing law provided a mechanism to reexamine the case. all after the “Serial” podcast in 2014. the details of the case turned into an obsession for the number of amateur events.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby immediately hailed the judge’s decision as a victory for justice, but Syed’s victory came as a bitter reminder to those who have known about the loopholes in the case for years. In a new episode of “Serial” released Tuesday, host Sarah Koenig noted that most or all of the evidence cited in prosecutors’ motion to overturn the conviction had been available since 1999 in respect.
“Yesterday, there was a lot of talk about fairness, but most of what the state put in that motion to dismiss, all of the evidence, was known or known by police and prosecutors back in 1999,” said Koenig. “So, even on a day when the government publicly acknowledges its own mistakes, it’s hard to feel that they are excited about the victory of fairness. Because we have built a system that takes more than 20 years to correct itself. And that is this one case.”
Koenig argued that the case against Syed involved “almost every chronic problem” in the system, including unreliable witness testimony and evidence that was never shared with Syed’s defense team.
On Monday, Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn in Baltimore ordered Syed released after overturning his conviction for the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee, Syed’s ex-girlfriend. Syed, 41, kept a always maintained his innocence but in 2019 the highest court in the state rejected his appeal for a new trial.
At the behest of prosecutors who said they had recently discovered new evidence, Phinn ruled that the state breached its legal obligation to share evidence that could have bolstered Syed’s defense. The judge said the state must decide whether to seek a new trial date or dismiss the case within 30 days.
Mosby, who took office in 2015, filed a motion last week to vacate Syed’s conviction, a filing that Koenig described as “fireworks” from the same office that asked a jury to convict Syed years ago.
In the “Serial” episode posted Tuesday, Koenig broke down the prosecutors’ motion and described how some of the evidence they cited appeared in the podcast, and other evidence — including other suspect evidence — turned up. – in public recently.
Evidence central to Monday’s outcome was revealed by a unit sent by Mosby’s office to re-examine cases in which juvenile defendants were given life sentences. That worked in conjunction with a 2021 Maryland law that allows someone convicted as a juvenile to seek a reduced sentence after serving at least 20 years. Syed was 17 when Lee was killed.
Prosecutor Becky Feldman led the unit and found notes written by one of her predecessors describing two phone calls in which people gave them information before Syed’s trial about someone who intended to harm Lee. That information was not given to the defense at the time, according to prosecutors, an omission that Phinn said violated Syed’s rights.
Koenig noted that she knew who these two new suspects were — as were the detectives who investigated Syed two decades ago — but declined to name them because they had not been charged.
“One of the suspects was investigated at the time, and submitted to a couple of polygraphs. The other one was also investigated, but not as enthusiastically, as far as I can tell,” she said.
Other supporting evidence of the unreliability of a key witness and questions about cell phone data previously appeared on “Serial,” Koenig said.
“If you listened to our show you probably remember all of this,” Koenig said.
Koenig said the show explored questions about cellphone data used by prosecutors to bolster witness testimony. But she acknowledged that expert analysis used by prosecutors to arrive at her current offer had not been fully explored.
“We were unable to get to the bottom of this problem in terms of returning incoming calls when we were reporting this story,” she said.
In the years since “Serial” chronicled Syed’s case and revolutionized the true-crime genre, there have been some breakthroughs in other cases explored by like-minded podcasters.
In Sydney, Australia, last month, a 74-year-old man was convicted of killing his wife in 1982, charges brought after police launched a renewed investigation based on a circumstantial case made against him in the popular podcast ” The Teacher’s Pet.”
A lengthy murder trial is also underway in Salinas, Calif., against a man in the 1996 death of Kirstin Smart, a freshman who dropped out of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. The sheriff said the “Your Own Backyard” podcast helped to produce new information and encourage witnesses to speak to detectives.
And the “In the Dark” podcast obtained a recorded statement from a jailhouse informant, along with an analysis of racial bias by a Mississippi prosecutor in jury selection, before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2019 decision to overturn Curtis’ murder conviction and death sentence. Flowers. Flowers, a Black man, was convicted in the shooting deaths of four people in a furniture store in 1996. Mississippi prosecutors later dropped charges against him.
Associate Press Writer Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.