Baltimore prosecutors on Wednesday sought to vacate the conviction in the murder case of Adnan Syed, whose legal story gained international prominence through the hit podcast “Serial.”
A year-long investigation by the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office and Syed’s attorney revealed two more suspects, and prosecutors failed to disclose that information to Syed’s defense attorneys, committing what is known as a Brady violation and seeking to have him vacated. Sentencing filed in Baltimore Circuit Court.
Prosecutors wrote that Syed, 42, has not pleaded not guilty, but they have no confidence in his conviction. They asked for a new trial for Syed while the investigation into the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee continues, and asked the judge to release Syed on his own recognizance pending further developments.
Lee, who had previously been in a relationship with Syed, was strangled and buried in a secret grave in Baltimore’s League Park. Syed has always maintained that he is innocent of his ex-girlfriend’s murder.
“The State’s Brady violations robbed the defendant of information that could have bolstered his investigation and argument that someone else was responsible for the victim’s death….These concerns are illuminated by new information regarding alternative suspects and new evidence regarding credibility. Crucial evidence at trial, the State’s belief in the fairness of the convictions. has caused a loss,” Becky Feldman, chief of the State Attorney’s Office’s Sentencing Review Division, wrote in the motion.
The state attorney’s office said it notified Lee’s family before filing a motion to overturn Syed’s conviction. Attempts to reach Lee’s family on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Syed’s attorney, Erica Suter, director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, released a statement in a press release from the Maryland Public Defender’s Office.
“With the lack of credible evidence implicating Mr. Syed, along with evidence pointing to other suspects, this unjust conviction cannot stand,” said Suter, who is also an assistant public defender. “Mr. Syed is grateful that this information has finally come to light and looks forward to his day in court.
Syed’s longtime friend and his practicing public defender, Rabia Chowdhury, said the prosecutors’ motion to overturn his conviction and order a new trial was the culmination of years of work and prosecution of his case.
She called the news surreal.
“It’s being verified,” Chowdhury said. “That’s what we’ve been saying for decades.”
Authorities previously believed Lee fought in the car before killing Syed. He was tried twice for murder. In 2000 a jury found Syed guilty of premeditated murder, kidnapping, robbery and false imprisonment. In the verdict, the judge sentenced him to life and 30 years in prison.
Syed appealed repeatedly, with trial judges and appellate courts repeatedly denying his lawyers’ requests. In 2018, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals ruled Syed deserved a new trial, only for the state’s Supreme Court to overturn the opinion the following year. The US Supreme Court declined to review Syed’s case in 2019.
Now, prosecutors say, a nearly year-long investigation has revealed two alternative suspects who were known to authorities 23 years ago but were not disclosed to Syed’s defense. Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys will reveal the identities of the suspects because the investigation is ongoing, according to the motion.
One of the suspects threatened Lee, saying, “He’ll make her [Lee] will disappear. He would kill her,” the filing says.
Chowdhury, an author, had written about the so-called Brady violations in his book. Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial. Chowdhury said he could have asked for a chance to return to court and get justice fairly, with the possibility of a new trial.
“It’s something he didn’t get at 17,” she said. “We know he is innocent.”
Choudary praised Mosby’s office for working with the Innocence Project to get his friend’s charges vacated.
“Prosecutor Mosby has a strong record of acquitting innocent people,” Chaudhry said.
In the motion, Feldman wrote that the development is part of an effort by Mosby’s office to prioritize “justice, fairness and the integrity of the criminal justice system.”
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Maryland Public Defender Natasha Tarticu said in a statement that alternative suspects and motives have been kept secret for more than 20 years “should shock the conscience.” He added that his public defenders regularly encounter these violations, and the withheld information in Syed’s case underscores the importance of prosecutors disclosing detailed information to defense attorneys.
“This is a true example of justice delayed is justice denied,” Tardigue’s statement said. “An innocent man is wrongly imprisoned for decades while any information or evidence that helps identify the real culprit becomes difficult to follow.”
This article will be updated.