Adnan Syed: After an overturned murder conviction, many questions remain about the unsolved case



CNN

After Baltimore prosecutors decided this week to drop all charges against Adnan Syed, the man who served more than two decades for killing ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, one key question remains: Who will be held responsible for Lee’s death. ?

Syed, who was 17 at the time of his death, was convicted in 2000 of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment and sentenced to life in prison. However, he has long maintained his innocence, and his story was featured on the popular “Serial” podcast, which raised questions about the conviction and his legal representation.

He was released from prison last month after prosecutors moved to vacate his murder conviction without warning, saying the state had “no confidence in the integrity of the conviction,” but stopped short of declaring his innocence.

Based on the prosecution’s motion, a judge last month vacated the conviction and freed Syed, who left the courtroom to cheers and applause from supporters.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Tuesday she ordered her office to dismiss the charges after advanced DNA test results on Lee’s shoes, skirt, pants and jacket ruled out Syed.

“The items that we tested had never been tested before,” Mosby said. “We used advanced DNA to determine that it was not Adnan Syed.”

The decision to drop the charges comes nearly 23 years after the disappearance of Lee, Syed’s ex-girlfriend and high school classmate. His body was found in a forest in the city three weeks later. Authorities determined she had been drowned.

Two Baltimore Police Department homicide detectives are actively investigating the case in cooperation with Mosby’s office, which is providing all information about the case, as well as new developments that have come to light over the past year, Mosby told CNN Friday.

In September, prosecutors announced how a nearly year-long investigation revealed evidence of the possible involvement of two suspects other than Syed, which prosecutors said was not properly turned over to defense attorneys.

The re-investigation also raised questions about the reliability of cellphone data records, which corroborated the testimony of a witness who said Syed helped dig the hole in the victim’s body.

“Adnan was not seen as a suspect. He was arrested about six weeks after Lee disappeared,” said Douglas Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor who was one of Syed’s first lawyers in the month after his arrest.

“The new investigators will look at all the evidence with a new lens, and will no doubt try to follow up on the information that was included in the Syed file,” Colbert added.

Mosby said the goal of the reinvestigation is to “see some closure and real justice” for Lee’s family, adding that his office’s responsibility is to give back to the victim, of which there are many in this case – including Syed and his family. as well as Lee and his.

“I’ve been asked, ‘Am I saying he’s innocent?’ ” Mosby told CNN. “The only thing I will say is that after an extensive review of all the evidence that we just talked about, we have no credible evidence that Mr. Syed is responsible for this incident.”

Syed’s road to release began in earnest last April, when Syed’s lawyers reported the case to the Sentencing Review Unit. Recent legislation allows people convicted of juvenile crimes to seek commutation after serving 20 years in prison, Mosby’s office said.

The state attorney highlighted flaws in the Syed case revealed in the review, including exculpatory evidence that had been “sitting for decades” about the possible involvement of two suspects other than Syed, including a person who said they would “disappear” Lee. “(He) would kill her,” prosecutors said earlier.

The new evidence also convicted a suspect of assaulting a woman in his vehicle, the statement said. A second suspect was convicted of serial rape and sexual assault, the statement said.

Syed’s lawyers said he and his legal team did not know the information existed until this year.

Moving forward, detectives will focus on finding credible evidence to support potential charges against anyone responsible for Lee’s death, Mosby said, adding that he could not provide additional details about the ongoing investigation.

David Jaros, a University of Baltimore law professor and faculty director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform, said it is not yet known whether the DNA evidence examined in the review implicated either of the two suspects in Lee’s death.

The case is a “tragedy on both sides” that began with Syed’s initial trial, Jaros said.

“Not only did the defendant unjustly spend 23 years in prison, but it is very difficult and difficult for the family to see the real perpetrator before the court,” Jaros said, noting that it is difficult to investigate and prosecute a case. more than two decades of evidence.

“It really challenges our idea of ​​whether the criminal justice system is functioning in the way that we think is constitutional or that we’re comfortable with,” he said.

Steve Kelly, an attorney for Lee’s family, said the family learned of the dismissal of the charges through the media and criticized the attorney’s office for not notifying them in advance.

“The family was given no notice and their lawyer was not offered an opportunity to be present at the proceedings,” Kelly said.

Young Lee, the victim’s brother, said he felt “betrayed” by the state during an impact statement on a Zoom call in a Baltimore court in September.

“This is not a podcast for me, this is real life,” Lee said.

Mosby denied that his office failed to properly notify the Lee family, saying they were “the first to receive a copy of the motion to vacate even before we filed.”

Jaros said the family’s argument will be difficult to prove because the judge’s decision focused on evidence the state failed to provide to the defense, rather than a resentencing where the court must consider a victim impact statement.

Mosby’s decision to drop the charges further complicates the family’s chances of an appeal, he added.

In this case, Jaros said that it is unlikely that the family will have the right to participate in the process, but they still have the right to receive proper notification.

“The outstanding question is, did the state’s attorney give the family reasonable notice when they found out that this process was going on a few days in advance? And if they were to argue that it wasn’t reasonable notice, does that mean the remedy is to do this when no victim input is required? he added.

Syed is expected to go through a recertification process in order to plead not guilty in that case, Mosby said.

His legal team must submit a request for compensation under Maryland’s Walter Lomax Act, which Gov. Larry Hogan signed in 2021 to improve the law on compensation for wrongfully convicted people.

Mosby’s office will fully assist Syed in any additional proceedings regarding his innocence, and his case meets all requirements for compensation.

Due process under the Lomax Act requires proof that the individual seeking compensation was convicted and imprisoned for a crime; the conviction was reversed or vacated; and the charges were dismissed, or the individual was acquitted at a retrial.

Erica Suter, Syed’s attorney and director of the Innocence Project Clinic, long praised the decision to drop the charges.

“Although the proceedings are not fully completed, it is an important step for Adnan, who has been under house arrest since his release motion was first granted last month,” he said.

Syed was wearing an ankle monitor with location tracking, but the home tracking was removed Tuesday, Suter said.

In the long term, Syed plans to continue her college education and dreams of attending law school, she said. Today, though, she plans to spend time with her loved ones without being under house arrest.

“The question we should all be asking is: How many more Adnan Syeds are there in prison or life sentences?” said Colbert, one of Syed’s first lawyers. to have the effective assistance of a lawyer”.