The brother of Hae Min Lee on Friday contended that he did not receive proper notice and was denied the right to be heard at a hearing during which a judge threw out the conviction of Adnan Syed, a violation of crime victims’ rights that necessitates a redo of the court proceedings.
In a brief, Steve Kelly, Young Lee’s attorney, outlined his legal arguments to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in the case, which received worldwide attention in 2014 with the release of the podcast “Serial.” He’s asking the panel of three judges to order a new hearing during which his client could present evidence, call witnesses and challenge information that the state puts on in court.
Even if the appeals court concludes that the case is moot, Kelly said, the panel should rule on the merits because victims’ rights are a matter of public concern and appellate guidance is needed in this area of the law.
“Mr. Lee must be afforded the opportunity to challenge the state’s evidence and witnesses and to present his own,” Kelly said.
Syed, now 41, was found guilty in 2000 in Baltimore Circuit Court of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment in the killing of Hae Min Lee, his ex-girlfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High School, and later sentenced to life in prison — plus 30 years.
Her body was found in Leakin Park in Baltimore on Feb. 9, 1999. She was 18.
At the time, Syed was 17. He has always maintained his innocence.
On Sept. 14, Assistant State’s Attorney Becky Feldman, chief of the Sentencing Review Unit, filed a motion to throw out Syed’s conviction, citing the results of an almost one-year investigation that discovered that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence as well as turned up information about the two possible alternative suspects.
Feldman conducted the inquiry with Assistant Public Defender Erica Suter, Syed’s attorney and director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Circuit Judge Melissa M. Phinn on Sept. 19 granted the motion and ordered Syed to be released from prison. The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office had 30 days to schedule a new date for trial or drop the case.
Next, Kelly filed an appeal and then asked the courts to put the proceedings on hold while the litigation played out.
But State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby on Oct. 11 dropped the charges against Syed, citing the results of new DNA testing.
“There’s no more appeal,” Mosby told reporters at a news conference. “It’s moot.”
Kelly argues that the state gave his client less than one business day of notice of the hearing. Prosecutors did not provide enough information for Young Lee to understand let alone challenge the evidence, Kelly said.
Phinn conducted a closed proceeding in her chambers ahead of the court date. But Young Lee was “neither notified of the hearing nor given an opportunity to be present — much less heard,” Kelly said.
Later, Phinn denied a request to postpone the hearing for one week so Young Lee could appear in person. He then left work and gave a statement over Zoom.
“I just want the judge to know like the stuff that we’re going through, our family, it’s killing us,” Young Lee said in court. “And I ask, judge, that you make the right decision. That’s all, your honor.”
To fix the violation of his client’s rights, Kelly cited case law and contends that Young Lee should be placed back in the same position where he was before that happened. That means the appeals court should order a new hearing that complies with law, Kelly said.
He maintains that family members do not want to see a man wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.
A spokesperson for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, Raquel Coombs, declined to comment.
In a statement, Suter said the legal argument set out in the brief seeks to return her client to prison for a crime that he did not commit. Wrongful convictions, she said, have a devastating effect on the innocent. They include both the wrongfully accused and victims of crime.
“Justice for Hae Min Lee means finding the actual killer, not furthering the harm experienced by Adnan Syed and his family,” Suter said.
“This appeal is about whether Hae Min Lee’s family was properly notified. They were,” she added. “The closure they seek is not found in incarcerating an innocent man.”