Adnan Syed walked out of court a free man on Monday after a nearly year-long investigation uncovered new evidence about the possible involvement of two alternative suspects in the 1999 murder of college student Hae Min Lee.
Lee, 18, disappeared without a trace on January 13, 1999 after leaving Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland, where she was a senior.
Her body was found about a month later, buried in a Baltimore park. She had been strangled.
Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend who was 17 at the time, was arrested and charged with her murder.
In 2000, he was convicted of murder, theft, kidnapping and false imprisonment and sentenced to life in prison.
On Monday, Baltimore City Circuit judge Melissa Phinn vacated the 41-year-old’s conviction “in the interest of justice,” granted him a new trial and ordered him to be released under house arrest as the investigation into Lee’s murder continues.
Minutes later, he was met by cheers as he descended the courthouse steps and got into a waiting car.
His release came days after Maryland prosecutors filed a bomb request to quash his conviction.
On Wednesday — after more than two decades behind bars where Syed continued to maintain his innocence of any involvement — Baltimore City State attorney Marilyn Mosby filed a motion to overturn his conviction.
She said “the state has lost confidence in the integrity of the conviction” based on doubts about the validity of cell phone records and new information about two unnamed suspects.
Prosecutors asked a judge to overturn Syed’s conviction, grant him a “minimum” retrial and release him on bail or on his own personal admission while the investigation continues.
Prosecutors have stopped saying they believe Syed is innocent, instead saying they want to make sure the real killer or killers are brought to justice – be that the 41-year-old or someone else.
“After nearly a year of investigation into the facts of this case, Syed deserves a new trial in which he is adequately represented and the final evidence can be presented,” Ms Mosby said in a statement on Wednesday.
“As administrators of the court, we are committed to upholding confidence in the integrity of convictions and to do our part to correct when this standard is incorporated,” she said.
“We spoke to the family of Ms. Hae Min Lee and [they] fully understand that the person responsible for this heinous crime must be held accountable.”
Prosecutors and Syed’s lawyers have spent the past year investigating the case that attracted international attention thanks to the 2014 serial podcasting.
In March, they submitted a request to test Lee’s clothing for touch UKTN – technology that was not available during the original trial.
Six months later, prosecutors said there was new evidence about the possible involvement of two alternative suspects.
Wednesday’s motion also cited the unreliability of cell tower data used as evidence to place Syed at the crime scene, as well as the unreliability of the state’s key witness and a detective working on the original case. .
Who are the two suspects?
Wednesday’s court did not name the two alternative suspects in the case, citing an ongoing investigation.
Prosecutors said the two alternate suspects were known in the initial 1999 murder investigation and had not been properly excluded or disclosed to the defense.
One of the suspects was excluded by police on the basis of erroneous polygraph tests, the documents say.
Both suspects have criminal records, one has been convicted of assaulting a woman in her car and the other has been convicted of serial rape and assault.
According to the new court documents, one of the suspects had threatened to kill Lee around the time of her murder.
He said that “he would make” [Lee] to disappear. He would kill her,” the documents read.
Prosecutors said in a statement that the two individuals now suspected in the case “may be involved individually or together”.
Ronald Lee Moore
While prosecutors have not named the two alternate suspects, other names have surfaced in the serial podcast that first broke the case wide.
serial, by journalist Sarah Koenig, told the story of Lee’s murder and Syed’s conviction, raising doubts about his guilt or — at the very least — the prosecution’s case.
Upon its release in 2014, it was a huge hit and brought worldwide attention to the little-known cause.
In it, Ms. Koenig named Ronald Lee Moore, a Baltimore career criminal and accused murderer, as a suspect in Lee’s murder.
Moore, who died by suicide in a Louisiana prison in 2008, had previously been convicted of burglary and was also suspected of a series of other burglaries, unsolved sexual assaults and murders throughout Maryland.
He was released from prison just 10 days before Lee’s disappearance and death.
He was part of the original investigation, but the UKTN found at the crime scene did not match him. It also didn’t match Syed.
It’s not clear whether the new UKTN touch test has now tied him to the case.
After his death in 2008, Moore has been linked to at least two unsolved murders of young women around the same time as Lee’s murder.
In 2020, Moore was identified as the murderer of 23-year-old Shawn Marie Neal who was found strangled in 1996 in her apartment in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
No one was ever charged in Neal’s murder and the case went cold until UKTN from the murder scene was finally linked to Moore nearly 25 years later.
In 2013, Moore was also named as a suspect in the 1999 murder of Annelise Hyang Suk Lee in Baltimore.
It’s not clear whether Moore is one of two alternate suspects now suspected of Lee’s murder.