Attorneys for the family of Hae Min Lee have 15 days to argue why the courts should not dismiss their appeal of the order last month that released Adnan Syed from prison.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Wednesday directed the Lee family attorneys to explain why the court should still consider their appeal. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby called their appeal “moot” Tuesday after her office dismissed the murder charges against Syed. His case was examined in the hit podcast “Serial” and captured attention around the world.
The latest court order leaves open the door, however narrow, for attorney Steve Kelly to continue to argue that Lee’s family deserved more notice and a greater chance to participate in the proceedings that brought Syed’s freedom after 23 years. Kelly had tried to appeal an earlier decision that released Syed on home detention. He asked the courts to halt all proceedings in the case so he could file his appeal.
Before the courts took action, Mosby’s office dismissed the case altogether. Her action left the case in an unusual position: What was left to appeal?
The court puts that question before Kelly with its order.
“The family’s goal remains to ensure that their daughter is not forgotten and that her murderer is brought to justice,” Kelly said. “We are considering our legal options since the state preemptively dismissed the charges against Mr. Syed, before our appeal and motion for a stay could even be heard.”
Baltimore prosecutors and police continue to investigate Lee’s killing.
“After reviewing the evidence, our office concluded that the criminal justice system failed the family of Hae Min Lee by wrongfully convicting Adnan Syed 23 years ago,” said Emily Witty, spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office. “We are focused on pursuing justice on behalf of her family and remain committed to offering them victim support services.”
The appellate court also gave 15 days to the Maryland Office of the Attorney General to respond to attempts by Syed’s defense to exclude it from further proceedings. It all means litigation will continue in the case — even as Syed is free, his name cleared.
Baltimore appellate attorney Steve Klepper has followed the case and noted the Lee family attorneys have no easy path in trying to undo what’s already been done.
“Fifteen days is over twice as long as the ordinary week to respond to a motion to dismiss as moot. The victim representative and the state have time to figure out their best arguments,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Syed is settling into life outside of prison. His attorney, Erica Suter, director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said her client continues to process his newfound freedom. For now, he’s satisfied with the “small, quiet, everyday joys of freedom that many of us take for granted,” she said.
Syed took courses with Georgetown University while in prison. He wants to earn his bachelor’s degree and attend law school.
He became a household name following “Serial.” Listeners pored over the evidence in his case and debated his guilt or innocence. After years of his failed appeals, his case turned last month when prosecutors and defense attorneys told a judge they discovered evidence of two alternate suspects in the 1999 killing of Lee, his ex-girlfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High School.
On grounds of this new evidence, a Baltimore judge released Syed from prison last month. Prosecutors formally dismissed all criminal charges against him Tuesday.
That dismissal also allows Syed to seek compensation from the state for the years he spent locked up. Suter has declined to say whether he intends to apply for the money, calling the matter “a question for another day.”
In years past, people needed a pardon from the governor before they could apply for compensation in Maryland. Between 1984 and 2004, five men received pardons and collected payments ranging from $16,500 for 11 months in prison to $1.4 million for 26 years, according to state figures.
About five years ago, state officials expanded eligibility anyone who receives a formal declaration of innocence from the circuit courts. With a document called a “writ of actual innocence” in hand, exonerees could apply for payment from the Maryland Board of Public Works.
Last year, state lawmakers further expanded eligibility and streamlined the process. Now, exonerees don’t need a writ of actual innocence from the courts — though that document helps — but present their case to the state Office of Administrative Hearings. An administrative law judge will hear the case and must be persuaded by “clear and convincing evidence” of a person’s innocence.
After that finding, the judge orders the Board of Public Works to make the payments. The amount is based on U.S. census figures for median household income. In recent cases, exonerees have been awarded about $240 a day.
Syed spent more than 8,240 days in prison on a wrongful conviction. He would be eligible for about $2 million.