Adnan Syed, who spent more than 20 years in prison in connection to the killing of his ex-girlfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High School in a case documented in the popular podcast “Serial,” on Wednesday asked the Maryland Supreme Court to hear an appeal challenging a ruling to reinstate his conviction and sentence.
The development was expected. Syed’s lead attorney, Erica Suter, an assistant public defender who serves as director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, had vowed to appeal the decision from the Appellate Court of Maryland.
The Maryland Supreme Court has to agree to take up the appeal. Legal experts previously told The Baltimore Banner that the state’s high court likely will hear the case.
“Adnan’s innocence is not at issue, but his rights as a defendant and freedom as an exoneree are directly impacted by the Appellate Court of Maryland’s decision,” Suter said in a statement.
“Beyond the import of these proceedings to Adnan and his family, the issues raised have broader implications for our entire legal system, most notably the authority of the State to dismiss a case, the role of victims’ representatives in proceedings to redress unjust convictions, and the restrictions placed on judges’ discretion to utilize remote communication services like Zoom,” she added. “We hope that the Supreme Court will consider these vital issues of first impression.”
In a separate, unopposed motion, Suter asked the high court to allow her client to continue to remain free during the appeals process.
Syed, now 42, was found guilty in 2000 in Baltimore Circuit Court of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment, and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years. He was 17 at the time and has always maintained that he did not kill Hae Min Lee, 18, whose body was found in Leakin Park in Baltimore on Feb. 9, 1999.
The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office moved in 2022 to throw out Syed’s conviction, citing the results of an approximately one-year investigation that revealed that prosecutors uncovered information about two possible alternative suspects and did not turn over exculpatory evidence.
Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn granted the motion and ordered Syed to immediately be released from prison. Prosecutors had 30 days to schedule a new trial or drop the charges.
Young Lee, Hae Min Lee’s brother, had asked the judge to delay the hearing for one week so he could attend in person. Phinn denied that request but allowed him to make a statement over Zoom.
His attorney, Steve Kelly, then filed a notice of appeal and asked the courts to put the proceedings on hold. The state’s attorney at the time, Marilyn Mosby, then dropped the charges, citing the results of new DNA testing.
Earlier this year, the Appellate Court of Maryland ruled 2-1 that the state’s move to drop the charges against Syed was a “legal nullity” and found that Young Lee’s rights to prior notice of the hearing and in-person attendance were violated.
The mid-level appeals court reinstated Syed’s conviction and sentence and ordered a new hearing.
In a statement, David Sanford, an attorney for Young Lee, said the intermediate appellate court recognized that victims have rights in Maryland.
“We are confident that the Maryland Supreme Court will also recognize those rights and hold that victims may not only receive notice of and attend a vacatur hearing, but also meaningfully participate in that hearing,” Sanford said.
Following his release, Georgetown University hired Syed to work at its Prison and Justice Initiative to help students investigate wrongful convictions. He has also helped take care of his elderly parents.