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Adnan Syed freed after judge vacates murder conviction

Adnan Syed freed after judge vacates murder conviction

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Years after Syed’s conviction for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, the Serial podcast documented the case’s complicated story and unsettling lack of forensic evidence

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Adnan Syed leaves the courthouse after Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, overturned his first-degree murder conviction in the 1999 killing of Hae Min Lee.
Adnan Syed leaves the courthouse after Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, overturned his first-degree murder conviction in the 1999 killing of Hae Min Lee.
Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Adnan Syed was set free on Monday after more than 20 years in prison for being convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in a case that spawned intense interest after it was documented in the podcast Serial. The New York Times reports Judge Melissa M. Phinn of Baltimore City Circuit overturned Adnan Syed’s murder conviction after prosecutors filed documents questioning the trial and the evidence presented, without saying that they believe he is innocent.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the judge ordered Syed unshackled in court and to remain on GPS monitoring pending another trial, while the prosecutors have 30 days to determine whether to try him again or drop the charges. In her ruling, Phinn wrote, “the State has proven that there was a Brady violation,” referencing a 1963 Supreme Court decision that prosecutors are obligated to turn over any evidence to the defense that could be favorable to the accused.

On Tuesday morning, the Serial podcast released its 13th episode, “Adnan is out.”

It’s Baltimore, 2022. Adnan Syed has spent the last 23 years incarcerated, serving a life sentence for the murder of Hae Min Lee, a crime he says he didn’t commit. He has exhausted every legal avenue for relief, including a petition to the United States Supreme Court. But then, a prosecutor in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s office stumbled upon two handwritten notes in Adnan’s case file, and that changed everything.

In their motion to vacate, prosecutors specifically questioned the cellphone data used to place Syed near the site of Lee’s burial, which was used to corroborate the testimony of the state’s witness, Jay Wilds, about his activities with Syed on the day of the murder. As they wrote, the State’s case “relied on billing location information, provided by ATT, to account for the whereabouts of Defendant’s cell phone.”

However, a note on the records specifically said that information for incoming calls “would not be considered reliable information for location” because the signal is sent to multiple towers in an effort to find the target device. An expert they cited said with the TDMA technology used by AT&T in 1999, “it is possible that an incoming call could be recorded at the last registered tower/sector and not the current one when the signal is sent across multiple towers within an area.”

Page 15 of Syed - Motion to Vacate - 09-14-2022
Contributed to DocumentCloud by The Verge (Vox.com) • View document or read text

The judge rejected a request to postpone the decision from a lawyer representing Lee’s family, who said they had not been given adequate notice of the decision.

Prosecutors said the state has known since 1999 of two “alternative suspects” who may be guilty of the crime, who were not disclosed to his defense and include an unnamed serial rapist who has since been convicted of several assaults. The prosecutors also said one of the suspects had threatened Lee prior to her murder, saying they “would make her disappear.” The Times reports the prosecutor’s investigation revealed Ms. Lee’s car was discovered directly behind a home owned by a family member of one of the suspects.

Update September 19th, 7:36PM ET: Added information from the prosecutors’ motion to vacate and the document itself.

Update September 20th, 8:40AM ET: Added new episode of the Serial podcast.

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