Adnan Syed, who served more than 20 years in prison in the killing of his ex-girlfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High School in a case full of twists and turns and documented in the podcast “Serial,” spoke to reporters on Tuesday for more than two hours and called for the Maryland attorney general to investigate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Sitting in a chair next to a 70-inch TV in the basement of his parents’ home in Baltimore County, Syed, now 42, walked reporters through a detailed presentation that featured court filings, opinions and transcripts from the case. His younger brother, Yusuf, and mother, Shamim, accompanied him. He also repeatedly professed his innocence.
Toward the end, Syed made a personal appeal to Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect for Mr. Brown. He has a long history of standing up for Maryland families,” Syed told reporters on the one-year anniversary of his release from prison, though an appeals court later reinstated his conviction. “And we’re just asking that he please stand up for our family as well.”
The investigation, he said, should include questioning the trial prosecutors, Kevin Urick and Kathleen Murphy, as well as Steve Kelly, an attorney who previously represented the family of Hae Min Lee, Syed’s ex-girlfriend and classmate. Her body was discovered in Leakin Park in Baltimore on Feb. 9, 1999. At the time, she was 18 and Syed was 17.
Urick declined to comment on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Kelly is no longer involved in the case and directed questions to his former law firm, Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.
Murphy is now a judge of the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore County. A spokesperson for the Maryland Judiciary, Terri Charles, said in an email that judges are not able to speak about “pending or impending cases.”
Jennifer Donelan, a spokesperson for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, said it “does not have the authority to investigate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.”
“We are prevented from commenting any further because, as you are aware, we are in the midst of ongoing litigation involving this case,” Donelan said in a written statement.
Syed 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.
From the beginning, Syed has maintained his innocence.
Last year, the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office filed a motion to throw out Syed’s conviction, reporting that an almost one-year investigation had uncovered that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence and turned up information about two possible alternative suspects.
In the motion, Becky Feldman, who previously served as chief of the Sentencing Review Unit, wrote that the state located a document in the file that had not been turned over to the defense. The document provided details about how one of the alternative suspects had threatened, in reference to Lee, “He would make her disappear. He would kill her.”
The Baltimore Banner obtained a copy of the note. Urick, though, claimed that the pronoun “he” did not refer to one of the alternative suspects but to Syed.
Circuit Judge Melissa M. Phinn granted the motion and ordered Syed to immediately be released from prison. Hae Min Lee’s brother, Young Lee, had asked the judge to postpone the hearing for one week and then pursued an appeal.
The state’s attorney at the time, Marilyn Mosby, later dropped the charges, citing new DNA test results. But the Appellate Court of Maryland, in a 2-1 decision, reinstated Syed’s conviction and ordered a “new, legally compliant and transparent hearing” that does not violate the rights of the Lee family.
The Maryland Supreme Court later agreed to hear the case.
Reporters and photographers packed the room as Syed went through his 93-slide presentation and answered questions.
His attorneys, Erica Suter, director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and Brian Zavin, chief attorney of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender’s Appellate Division, were not present.
From the start, Syed claimed, there was prosecutorial misconduct present in his case. Syed noted that the assistant state’s attorney who handled his bail review hearing, Vickie Wash, asserted that there was a pattern of young Pakistani men who’d been jilted committing homicides and then fleeing the United States — a comment a judge later described as “xenophobic” and “egregious.”
“I had absolutely nothing to do with the murder of Hae,” Syed said. “Ever since the very beginning, all we’ve ever wanted to do is prove that I’m innocent and, just as importantly, or more importantly, to get justice for Hae and her family.”
“To this day, the person or persons who are responsible for Hae’s murder have never served one single day in prison being held accountable for it,” he added later.
He highlighted what he described as new revelations, alleging that the individual who was the source of the information contained in the note had come forward and sworn-out an affidavit stating that “he” did not refer to Syed.
“This witness is a very credible, has been described as a very credible — a hardworking professional, a parent and a spouse, and a well-respected member of their community,” Syed said. “And this affidavit was given to a private investigator and is now in the custody of an attorney.”
And, citing reporting from The Intercept, Syed asserted that Murphy, one of the trial prosecutors, secretly connected Kelly to the Lee family to try and reinstate the conviction in the case.
Syed spoke about the pain and suffering that his family has experienced and asked people to take that into account. He described the effort to reinstate his conviction as unprecedented and stated that the litigation has not been about victims’ rights, but instead about protecting Urick and Murphy from accountability.
At the same time, Syed emphasized that he supported whatever steps the Lee family wished to take and urged people to respect them and their privacy.
Syed said he respects the legal system and plans to attend oral arguments on Oct. 5 in the Maryland Supreme Court. He’s remained free while the appeals process plays out.
“We’re going to respect whatever decision that court makes,” Syed said.
“If that court makes a decision that I have to return to prison,” he added, “I’m going to be there: I’m going to be in prison.”