Hae Min Lee’s family on Wednesday again asked the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to order a redo of the hearing during which a judge threw out Adnan Syed’s murder conviction, noting a dispute over a key piece of evidence.
In its motion to throw out Syed’s conviction, the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office said it discovered a note from about 20 years ago that the state had not turned over to the defense. The document contains the following statement, which prosecutors assert points to a possible alternative suspect: “He told her that he would make her disappear; he would kill her.”
Meanwhile, one of the assistant state’s attorneys who tried the case, Kevin Urick, claims that the pronoun refers to Syed.
The Baltimore Banner obtained a copy of the note on Tuesday as well as a corresponding transcript that Urick prepared.
“Combined with other lingering questions, these revelations underscore that a full, public evidentiary hearing was necessary here,” wrote Steve Kelly, an attorney representing Young Lee, Hae Min Lee’s brother, in a 24-page court filing.
Kelly added that any ambiguity could be cleared up if the original prosecutor testified as a witness in court.
In court documents, Kelly reiterated the argument that his client was denied the right to meaningfully participate in the hearing to toss Syed’s conviction because prosecutors neither provided him with adequate notice nor the facts and evidence that served as at the basis for their decision.
As a result, Kelly wrote, his client is entitled to a new hearing during which he’s allowed to exercise rights as a victim of a crime in Maryland. Later, Syed’s attorney filed a five-page response restating her position that the appeal is moot.
Syed, now 41, was found guilty in 2000 in Baltimore Circuit Court of first-degree murder and related offenses and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years. He has always maintained that he did not kill Lee, 18, his ex-girlfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High School. Her body was discovered in Leakin Park in Baltimore on Feb. 9, 1999.
At the time, Syed was 17.
On Sept. 14, Assistant State’s Attorney Becky Feldman, chief of the Sentencing Review Unit, filed the motion to throw out Syed’s conviction, citing the findings of an approximately one-year investigation.
Feldman wrote the state discovered that prosecutors did not disclose exculpatory evidence. That’s in addition to turning up evidence of two possible alternative suspects.
Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn on Sept. 19 vacated the conviction and ordered Syed be released from prison. Prosecutors had 30 days to either schedule the case again for trial or drop the charges.
During the hearing, Kelly unsuccessfully asked the judge to delay the proceeding for one week. He later filed a notice of appeal.
In a previous statement, Kelly said family members were not looking to affect Syed’s release from prison but wanted a hearing during which they could participate and comment on the evidence.
Kelly asked the appellate court to put the case on hold while it considered the appeal.
Before the appeals court could rule on that request, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby on Oct. 11 dropped the charges against Syed. The results of new DNA testing, she said, excluded him as a contributor.
At a news conference explaining her decision, Mosby proclaimed, “There’s no more appeal. It’s moot.”
Later, Kelly submitted an affidavit from the trial judge, Wanda Keyes Heard, who wrote that a reading of the transcript reveals the verdict in the case was “supported by substantial direct and circumstantial evidence.”
Assistant Public Defender Erica Suter, Syed’s attorney and director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, contends that the appeal is moot and asked the appellate court to disregard the affidavit, which she described as a “nothing more than a highly inappropriate attempt by a former judicial officer” to condemn her client.
In her response filed on Thursday, Suter wrote that the pain the Lee family has endured for the last 23 years is unfathomable.
“It is both legally and morally correct that our system honors the rights of victims,” Suter said. “It is also true that the closure that victims sometimes seek may not be found in the solutions that our legal system offers.”
She said she acknowledged and appreciated Heard’s service on the bench.
Suter said it’s “not unusual that a prosecutor who has been found to have committed wrongdoing disputes the assessment of that conduct.” But that issue is not before the appeals court, she said.
Because there is no pending criminal case against her client, Suter said, the appeal is moot.
Though the Maryland Office of the Attorney General has raised questions about the integrity of the process that freed Syed and denied that it withheld exculpatory evidence, prosecutors conceded that the appeal was likely moot.
In a previous statement, Emily Witty, a spokesperson for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, said, “It is rather unfortunate that prior prosecutors who have severely mishandled this case continue to try to save face, further traumatizing the victim’s family and Mr. Syed due to their misdeeds.”
Urick, she said, violated discovery rules and engaged in questionable behavior and has “serious credibility issues.”
Witty described his explanation of the note as “not only convenient but self-serving” and stated the document should have been turned over regardless.
Syed’s case received worldwide attention in 2014 with the release of the podcast “Serial.” The HBO documentary series “The Case Against Adnan Syed” and the podcast “Undisclosed” have also examined his legal saga.
The appellate court has not indicated when it might issue a ruling in the case.