The attorney for Adnan Syed is asking the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to disregard an affidavit from the judge who presided over his second trial in support of an appeal in the case, calling it “nothing more than a highly inappropriate attempt by a former judicial officer” to condemn him.
Assistant Public Defender Erica Suter, Syed’s attorney and director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, wrote in a nine-page motion and reply on Monday that retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Wanda Keyes Heard’s affidavit “does not and cannot provide any information on the question at issue,” which is whether the appeal is moot.
Heard wrote that she took more than 100 pages of typed notes during the trial and stated that a reading of the transcript shows that the verdict was “supported by substantial direct and circumstantial evidence.” She was the first woman to serve as chief judge of Baltimore Circuit Court.
Suter described the affidavit as an attempt to create evidence for the appeals court to consider and urged it to decline.
“The affidavit must be stricken and given no consideration,” Suter said.
Syed, now 41, was found guilty in 2000 in Baltimore Circuit Court of first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery and false imprisonment in the death of Hae Min Lee, 18, his ex-girlfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High School. Her body was discovered in Leakin Park in Baltimore on Feb. 9, 1999. He has always maintained his innocence, and the case received international attention in 2014 with the podcast “Serial.”
At the time, Syed was 17.
On Sept. 14, Assistant State’s Attorney Becky Feldman, chief of the Sentencing Review Unit, filed a motion to throw out Syed’s conviction after an approximately one-year investigation that she conducted with Suter.
Feldman said the state discovered that prosecutors did not disclose exculpatory evidence and turned up evidence of two possible alternative suspects. Prosecutors, she said, no longer had confidence in the integrity of the conviction.
Five days later, Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn threw out Syed’s conviction and ordered him to be released from prison. Prosecutors had 30 days to either set a new date for trial or drop the charges.
Later, Steve Kelly, an attorney representing Young Lee, Hae Min Lee’s brother, filed a notice of appeal and then asked the appellate court to put the proceedings on hold during the litigation.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby dropped the charges against Syed before the appeals court issued a ruling.
During a news conference, Mosby declared, “I’ve utilized my power and discretion to dismiss the case. There’s no more appeal. It’s moot.”
But Kelly contends that the appeal is not moot. He’s asking for the appeals court to order an evidentiary hearing during which family members can meaningfully participate as well as examine the constitutionality of the law that allows prosecutors to file motions to throw out convictions.
In a statement, Kelly said his client’s family is not looking to affect Syed’s release from prison.
As part of his response to the appellate court explaining why it should not throw out the appeal, Kelly obtained the affidavit from Heard.
“Judge Heard’s decision to support the Lee family in this appeal is extraordinary,” Kelly said. “It never happens and it underscores how high the stakes are in this case.”
Meanwhile, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General in court documents questioned the integrity of the process that freed Syed but conceded that the appeal was likely moot.
Suter said the attorney general’s office spent most of its filing on issues not at play in the case and reiterated her request to disqualify it from representing the state in the appeal.
“Personal opinions on the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City or Mr. Syed’s innocence are not properly before this Court,” Suter said.
The fact that state dropped the charges against her client, she said, ends the appeal. Suter said the appellate court should not issue an opinion about the statute that allows prosecutors to file motions to throw out convictions, describing that request as an attempt to change rather than clarify the law.
It’s unclear when the appeals court will issue a ruling.
This is a developing story. Check back later for more information.