UPDATE: Adnan Syed could be released from prison today. Get live updates from today’s hearing.
A Baltimore judge has scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. Monday to consider the joint request from prosecutors and defense attorneys to set free Adnan Syed, whose murder case received international attention with the hit podcast “Serial.”
Syed, 41, has been serving life in prison in connection to the 1999 slaying of Hae Min Lee, his ex-girlfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High School. The prosecution of Syed was examined in the podcast and an HBO documentary. People around the world debated his guilt or innocence.
Becky Feldman, chief of the Sentencing Review Unit in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, and Syed’s attorney Erica Suter, director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, together asked the courts to throw out his conviction. Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn will consider Monday their new evidence and decide whether to grant the request. A spokesman for the Maryland courts confirmed the time of the hearing and the judge assigned to the case.
The attorneys are asking the judge to set Syed free while they continue to investigate the killing of Lee.
Upon the request of prosecutors, Baltimore Police agreed to assign a detective to reinvestigate her killing.
In other similar cases, such hearings have simply been a matter of procedure; judges routinely grant the joint requests. It’s up to the prosecutors and defense attorneys to persuade the judge to release Syed. As of yet, no other party has entered the case to argue otherwise.
Syed remains locked up at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup.
On Wednesday, Feldman and Suter each filed motions asking the courts to overturn his conviction in light of newly discovered evidence of two other murder suspects. In addition, their year-long review of the case led them to believe evidence was not turned over to Syed’s defense attorneys over the years.
Syed was found guilty in 2000 of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment and sentenced to life in prison, plus 30 years. Prosecutors alleged that he killed Lee and dumped her body in Baltimore’s Leakin Park. He has maintained his innocence.
During trial, prosecutors described him as a scorned lover who strangled Lee in the parking lot of the Best Buy off Security Boulevard in Baltimore County. Prosecutors asserted he then called his friend, Jay Wilds, to pick him up, and the two buried her in a shallow grave in the park.
Wilds pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact and was sentenced to five years in prison, with all time suspended, plus two years’ probation. He testified against Syed.
Feldman and Suter, however, claim to have discovered new evidence of the alternate suspects. Prosecutors found a document in the case file that revealed another person had threatened to kill Lee.
“The suspect said that ‘he would make her [Ms. Lee] disappear. He would kill her,’” Feldman wrote.
She found no evidence that the state disclosed this threat to Syed’s attorneys, and that such disclosure should have been made.
In addition, Lee’s car was found parked in a grassy lot behind the 300 block of Edgewood in West Baltimore. One of the suspect’s family members lived on the block at the time of the killing.
Similarly, prosecutors say they found evidence that one of the new suspects had attacked another woman in her car. Also, one of the suspects, Feldman wrote, had a history of violence toward women.
Police initially ruled out one of the suspects after a routine polygraph test. But, Feldman wrote, police did not follow up and even allowed the suspect to come back because the person claimed to be distracted during the initial test.
“To be clear, the State is not asserting at this time that Defendant is innocent,” Feldman wrote. “However, for all the reasons set forth below, the State no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction. The State further contends that it is in the interests of justice and fairness that these convictions be vacated and that Defendant, at a minimum, be afforded a new trial at this time.”
If the judge grants their motion, prosecutors typically have 30 days to decide whether to drop the charges or retry the case.
In past cases, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has dropped the charges.