A Maryland appeals court on Tuesday denied a motion to reconsider its decision to reinstate the conviction and sentence of Adnan Syed, who served more than 20 years in prison in connection to the killing of his ex-girlfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High School in a case chronicled in the podcast “Serial.”
In a two-sentence order, E. Gregory Wells, chief judge of the Appellate Court of Maryland, wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel that it denied the motion because “it is based on an argument not previously raised.”
Syed, now 41, 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. He was 17 at the time.
In 2000, Syed was found guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.
Following a series of twists and turns, the Baltimore State’s Attorney Office in 2022 filed a motion to throw out his conviction. The move came after a nearly one-year investigation that revealed that prosecutors did not turn over exculpatory evidence and uncovered information about two possible alternative suspects.
Circuit Judge Melissa M. Phinn later granted the motion and ordered Syed to be released from prison. Prosecutors had 30 days to schedule a new trial or drop the charges.
Young Lee, Hae Min Lee’s brother, moved to appeal and then asked the courts put the case on hold. He argued that he was neither provided adequate notice of the hearing nor the opportunity to meaningfully participate.
Phinn had denied his request to delay the hearing for one week so he could appear in-person in the courtroom. She instead allowed him to make a statement over Zoom.
The Appellate Court of Maryland allowed the appeal to move forward. Earlier this year, it ruled 2-1 to reinstate Syed’s conviction and sentence and ordered a redo of the hearing.
In the majority opinion, Appellate Judge Kathryn Grill Graeff wrote that Young Lee’s rights to prior notice of the hearing and to attend in-person were violated.
But Graeff wrote that Young Lee did not have a right to be heard in court. He had asked for a new hearing during which he could call and cross-examine witnesses as well as present evidence.
Assistant Public Defender Erica Suter, Syed’s attorney and director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, had argued the appeal was moot because the state dropped the charges.
Suter and her co-counsel for the appeal, Brian Zavin, chief of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender’s Appellate Division, last week filed the motion for reconsideration. They contended that Young Lee failed to show how the outcome of the hearing would have been different had he attended in person.
“Appellate courts routinely assess whether an error impacted the underlying proceedings. We are dismayed that the Appellate Court of Maryland opted not to do so here,” Suter said in a statement. “We will be seeking review in the Supreme Court of Maryland.”
Steve Kelly, one of Young Lee’s attorneys, said he was pleased with the result.
”It brings us one step closer to what we want, which is an open, transparent and legally compliant hearing,” Kelly said. “And so we’re looking forward to getting that, sooner rather than later.”
Syed now works for the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown University. He has remained free while the case continues to be litigated.