State Watch

Prosecutors drop charges against Adnan Syed in ‘Serial’ case

FILE – Adnan Syed enters Courthouse East prior to a hearing on Feb. 3, 2016, in Baltimore. Baltimore prosecutors asked a judge on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, to vacate Syed’s conviction for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee — a case that was chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial”. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP, File)

The Baltimore City State Attorney’s Office on Tuesday dropped charges against Adnan Syed, whose case was made popular in the 2014 “Serial” podcast before he was released from prison last month after more than two decades behind bars.

The State Attorney’s Office confirmed to The Hill the charges were dropped and said additional information would be provided soon.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said “the fundaments of the criminal justice system should be based on fair and just prosecution and the crux of the matter is that we are standing here today because that wasn’t done 23 years ago.”

“Although my administration was not responsible for neither the pain inflicted upon Hae Min Lee’s family nor the wrongful conviction of Mr. Syed, as a representative of the institution, it is my responsibility to acknowledge and apologize to the family of Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed,” she said in a statement. 

Syed was convicted in 2000 for the murder of high school student Hae Min Lee in 1999.

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge overturned his conviction on Sept. 19 and Syed was released and placed on home detention while state prosecutors had 30 days to either seek a new trial or dismiss the case.

Before his release, prosecutors had filed a motion saying they had uncovered new evidence that put in doubt his conviction.

State prosecutors have said they uncovered new evidence on two alternate suspects and newly unveiled information on unreliable cell phone tower data that had been used in the case against Syed.

The State’s attorney’s office said in March it requested a new touch DNA examination of Lee’s clothing, which yielded no results the first time. In the second round, which returned results on Friday, they found multiple individual DNA samples on her shoes.

Touch DNA testing, which obtains and analyzes small samples like skin cells in a forensic examination, was not available in 1999 during the first investigation, the office said. 

The DNA testing, in tandem with the discovery of alternate suspects and other evidence, led to the decision to drop charges.

Syed, 41, has always maintained his innocence on the charges he killed Lee, his ex-girlfriend.

His story was captured in “Serial,” a hit podcast from journalist Sarah Koenig that questioned the evidence and circumstances around the murder case.

In 2016, two years after the podcast first went viral, a lower court ordered a retrial for Syed on the basis that his former attorney Cristina Gutierrez, who died in 2004, provided ineffective counsel. Maryland’s high court denied the appeal for a new trial in 2019.

Syed was serving a life sentence for his conviction. A jury had found him guilty of strangling Lee, whose body was found in a Baltimore park.

The family of Lee has filed to appeal the overturning of Syed’s conviction, arguing they were deprived of the right to participate in the decision.

In a statement, an attorney for the Lee family, Steve Kelly, said the family did not receive notice the charges would be dropped.

“By rushing to dismiss the criminal charges, the State’s Attorney’s Office sought to silence Hae Min Lee’s family and to prevent the family and the public from understanding why the State so abruptly changed its position of more than 20 years,” Kelly said. “All this family ever wanted was answers and a voice. Today’s actions robbed them of both.”

Updated at 4:26 p.m.

Tags Adnan Syed Adnan Syed Baltimore Baltimore State Attorney's Office Marilyn Mosby Maryland Serial
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