UPDATE: Adnan Syed could be released from prison today. Get live updates from today’s hearing.
At the request of prosecutors, Baltimore police will assign a detective to reinvestigate the murder of Woodlawn High School student Hae Min Lee, whose killing two decades ago was examined in the hit podcast “Serial” and a popular HBO documentary.
A spokeswoman for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office said police agreed to reinvestigate Lee’s killing in light of new evidence of alternate suspects. That police will review the case further validates the work of defense attorneys, activists and internet fans who argued over the years that Lee’s imprisoned ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, is innocent.
Baltimore police did not immediately comment.
Prosecutors asked the courts Wednesday to throw out Syed’s murder conviction. A Baltimore jury convicted him of strangling Lee after a six-week trial in early 2000.
Lee’s family could not be reached for comment. But Zy Richardson, spokeswoman for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors notified them before seeking to overturn Syed’s conviction.
A final decision, however, rests with a Baltimore Circuit Court judge. A hearing has not been scheduled.
If the judge grants the motion to dismiss Syed’s conviction, prosecutors typically have 30 days to decide whether to drop the charges altogether or retry the case. In the past, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has dropped the charges in such cases by entering what’s known as a nolle prosequi.
“The State’s decision to proceed with a new trial or ultimately enter a nolle prosequi to the charges is contingent upon the results of the ongoing investigative efforts,” wrote Becky Feldman, chief of the Sentencing Review Unit of the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office.
In the motion, Feldman wrote that prosecutors spent the past year investigating the case alongside Syed’s latest attorney, Erica Suter, and discovered evidence of the alternate suspects. Prosecutors, she said, also came to question some of evidence presented at trial and found instances in which authorities withheld information from Syed’s defense team.
Prosecutors aren’t going as far as claiming Syed is innocent, but that the conviction remains too flawed to let stand. Feldman’s 22-page motion blames prosecutors who handled the case in the past for not disclosing the references to other suspects.
Former Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Urick, who prosecuted Syed 22 years ago, did not return messages Thursday. The Office of the Maryland Attorney General learned Wednesday of the motion to vacate Syed’s conviction, spokeswoman Raquel Coombs said.
“The State’s Attorney Office did not consult our office. We believe that the Office of Attorney General met all of its obligations in this case,” Coombs said.
Feldman based her motion to vacate on documents discovered in the trial file that reference two alternate suspects. One document noted that another suspect said “he would make her (Ms. Lee) disappear. He would kill her.”
Those documents were not turned over to Syed’s defense attorneys, Feldman wrote.
Syed, now 41, was found guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court in 2000 of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment and sentenced to life in prison — plus 30 years — in the killing of Lee, his ex-girlfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High. He has maintained his innocence.
Her body was found in Leakin Park on Feb. 9, 1999. The state theorized that Syed was a scorned lover and 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 Lee in a shallow grave in Leakin 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.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Martin P. Welch granted a new trial in 2016 to Syed, finding that his attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, provided ineffective counsel for failing to challenge the reliability of cellphone evidence.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld that determination in 2018 on the grounds that Gutierrez did not investigate a potential alibi witness, Asia McClain, who would have testified that she saw Syed at the library at the time of the killing. But the state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, reversed the decision to award a new trial to Syed and reinstated his conviction in 2019.
Syed’s staunchest advocate, Rabia Chaudry, said she heard rumblings there might be advances in the case.
Chaudry is an attorney and author of “Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial,” as well as executive producer of the HBO documentary series “The Case Against Adnan Syed.” She serves as a host and producer of “Undisclosed,” a podcast that examined the case. And she described herself as like a big sister to him.
Even Chaudry did not expect prosecutors to step out and dismiss his conviction.
“It was pretty mind-boggling to see,” she said. “It’s such a rare occurrence. Prosecutors do not move to throw out convictions their office itself helped produce. It almost never happens.”
She said the most succinct way to sum up her feelings is, “I told you so.”
Chaudry noted that she had laid out a lot of information several years ago that’s included in the motion, including how the cellphone tower evidence presented at trial was junk science.
“It’s incredibly validating,” Chaudry said. “We have been repeating these same set of facts for years trying to make people understand what an egregious miscarriage of justice this has been, and how wrong the state’s theory of this case has been.”
She said she spoke with Syed in a 10-minute phone call Wednesday night. He feels good and is grateful for all the support, Chaudry said.
Chaudry brought the case to the attention of Sarah Koenig, the host and co-creator of the podcast “Serial,” which became an international phenomenon in 2014.
Koenig said she was shocked about the development and experienced a mix of emotions. She said she was struck with how fast decisions can happen once the right people acknowledge that something went wrong.
“It’s just stunning to me how 20 years of a case can turn around this quickly,” Koenig said. “It seems like this could happen really fast.”