Tuesday, October 4, 2022

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US judge frees Adnan Syed after more than 20 years in prison

The judge overturns Syed’s 1999 murder conviction as prosecutors reinvestigate the case that was the focus of the podcast “Serial.”

A Maryland judge vacated Adnan Syed’s 2000 murder conviction after prosecutors said there were two other possible suspects in the murder of his former girlfriend who were never disclosed to the defense at trial.

The case gained national attention when the podcast Serial cast doubt on his guilt.

Syed, now 42, has always said he was innocent and did not kill Hae Min Lee, who was 18 when she was strangled and buried in a Baltimore park in 1999.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn on Monday ordered Syed released from prison and placed under house arrest. Prosecutors have 30 days to seek a new trial or drop the case.

The Baltimore DA on Wednesday filed a motion to vacate the conviction after a year-long investigation, along with a public defender representing Syed, found multiple issues with witnesses and evidence from the trial.

Prosecutors told the court that they were not claiming that Syed was innocent, but that they no longer had confidence in the “integrity of the conviction” and that justice required that Syed at least be granted a new trial.

They said Syed should be released from prison, where he spent two decades, while prosecutors finalize the investigation and decide whether to seek a new trial.

Prosecutors said they uncovered new information about two alternative suspects, who they did not name. Her identity was known to the original prosecutors but was not revealed to the defense as required by law.

Prosecutors also ruled that a key witness and the detective investigating the murder were unreliable. They also found new information that cast doubt on the cellphone data that prosecutors in the trial relied on to place Syed at the crime scene.

The podcast Serial, produced by Chicago public radio station WBEZ, drew national attention to the case in 2014.

Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore District Attorney, said in a statement that “the person responsible for this heinous crime must be held accountable.”

Young Lee, the victim’s brother, told the court he was shocked and his family felt betrayed that prosecutors had changed course after decades of standing by the conviction.

“It’s really hard to go through that over and over again,” he said. “It’s a living nightmare.”

Video footage Monday showed Syed, dressed in a white shirt and blue tie, waving to a crowd of supporters outside the courtroom as he was escorted to a vehicle that drove him away.

The Innocence Project, an advocacy group pushing for criminal justice reform, welcomed Syed’s release and said the case underscores the problem of prosecutors unlawfully withholding exculpatory evidence.

“The integrity of the legal system requires responsibility not only for Mr. Syed’s wrongful conviction, but also for the pain that the state’s unlawful conduct has inflicted on Hae Min Lee’s family,” the group said in a statement.

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