Adnan Syed's murder conviction reinstated, Serial subject won't immediately be taken back into custody
A Maryland appeals court has reinstated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, the subject of the hit podcast Serial who was freed last year after 23 years behind bars for the 1999 death of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.
State law provides victims the right of prior notice of a hearing on motions to vacate convictions, and the Appellate Court of Maryland ruled Tuesday in a 2-1 decision that the lower court violated that right with regard to Lee's brother, Young Lee. The Lee family filed an appeal last year and argued that they were not properly notified about the hearing that led to Syed's release.
The appeals court asserted that it "has the power and obligation to remedy those violations, as long we can do so without violating Mr. Syed's right to be free from double jeopardy," and ordered a new hearing on the state's motion to vacate the conviction. "We remand for a new, legally compliant, and transparent hearing on the motion to vacate, where Mr. Lee is given notice of the hearing that is sufficient to allow him to attend in person, evidence supporting the motion to vacate is presented, and the court states its reasons in support of its decision."
According to the Associated Press, Syed will not immediately be taken back into custody.
Lloyd Fox/The Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images Adnan Syed leaves the courthouse after being released from prison in 2022
A spokesperson for the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office said in a statement to EW that the office is reviewing the decision and "any further comment would be premature at this time."
A spokesperson for the Maryland Judiciary told EW that the court does not comment on opinions, and they speak for themselves.
Syed's attorney, Erica Suter, said in a statement to EW, "The appeal was not about Adnan's innocence but about notice and mootness. The Appellate Court of Maryland has reinstated Adnan's convictions, not because the Motion to Vacate was erroneous, but because Ms. Lee's brother did not appear in person at the vacatur hearing. We agree with the dissenting judge that the appeal is moot and that Mr. Lee's attendance over Zoom was sufficient."
Suter added, "There is no basis for re-traumatizing Adnan by returning him to the status of a convicted felon. For the time being, Adnan remains a free man. We remain optimistic that justice will be done. We intend to seek review in Maryland's highest court, the Supreme Court of Maryland, and will continue to fight until Adnan's convictions are fully vacated. Ensuring justice for Hae Min Lee does not require injustice for Adnan."
A Baltimore judge overturned Syed's conviction last September after finding that prosecutors failed to disclose evidence regarding two alternative suspects, thereby committing what is referred to as a Brady violation. While prosecutors did not concede that Syed is innocent, they said they no longer had faith in his conviction. At the time, Syed had been serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping, and false imprisonment.
As explored in the first season of investigative podcast Serial, Syed and Lee were seniors at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County when Lee disappeared in January 1999. Her strangled body was discovered in a forest three weeks later. Syed, who was convicted in 2000, has maintained his innocence and spent years appealing his conviction.