Adnan Syed said he “cannot believe this is true” when he emerged from court as a free man after a Baltimore judge overturned his conviction for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.
Baltimore City judge Melissa Phinn overturned the 41-year-old’s sentence “in the interests of justice” on Monday and awarded him a new trial, the latest dramatic turn in a case that has attracted worldwide attention.
Syed’s shackles have been removed and a judge has ordered his release from house arrest while the investigation into Lee’s murder continues.
A few minutes later, as he descended the courthouse steps and boarded the waiting vehicle, he was heard roaring cheers. Syed smiled and sent a peace sign to his followers, but declined to comment.
His lawyer, Erica Suter, told reporters that the 41-year-old did not believe and was looking forward to living on after spending the last 23 years behind bars for a crime he claims he did not commit.
When asked what his first words were when the judge gave the ruling, she replied, “He said he couldn’t believe it was true.”
“She is looking forward to being with her family,” she added.
Baltimore City State attorney Marilyn Mosby also spoke outside the courthouse, saying she had asked for Syed to be given a new trial “in the interests of justice and justice,” but said the state had not yet found him innocent.
“We are not yet declaring Adnan Syed to be innocent, but in the interests of justice and fairness, we declare that he has the right to a new trial,” she said.
She added: “Mrs. Lee’s family deserves to be closed, they deserve justice and we intend to fight for that.”
Under state law, prosecutors now have 30 days to decide whether to drop the charges against Syed or reconsider the case.
Ms Mosby said prosecutors are awaiting DNA test results that they hope to speed up the investigation.
Before the judge gave his ruling, Lee’s brother had made a statement to the court detailing the toll the case was taking on his family.
Young Lee, who joined the court hearing practically from the West Coast, said the constant revival of the case was “killing me” because he urged the judge to “make the right decision.”
“I’ve been living with it for over 20 years. Every day when I think it’s over … or finished, it always comes back, ”he said. “It’s killing me. It’s really hard.”
He added that he felt “betrayed” by the prosecution after he blinded his family by questioning Syed’s guilt – after spending more than two decades insisting he was a killer.
The ruling came days after Maryland prosecutors filed a bombing motion for his release, saying that “the state no longer has confidence in the integrity of his conviction.”
On Wednesday, Ms Mosby filed a motion to quash Syed’s conviction, after nearly years of investigation, she raised serious doubts about the case.
Ms Mosby raised doubts about the validity of the telephone tower data that had been used in the original trial to place Syed at the scene of the crime.
She also pointed to new information about the possible involvement of two alternative anonymous suspects.
Two suspects, whose names were not named due to the ongoing investigation, were known in the preliminary investigation into the 1999 murder and were not properly excluded or disclosed to the defense, prosecutors said in a Wednesday court statement.
According to court records, one suspect threatened to kill Lee during her murder, saying that he would “do [Lee] to disappear. He would kill her.
Lee’s car was also found directly behind the house of one of the suspect’s family members, prosecutors said.
According to the documents, one of the suspects was excluded from the case by the police on the basis of incorrect polygraph tests.
Both suspects have a criminal record, one of whom was convicted of attacking a woman in her car and the other of serial rape and sexual assault.
Ms Mosby said in a statement that the two suspects now in the case “may be involved individually or may be involved together.”
She refrained from saying that the state believed Syed innocent, instead saying they wanted to ensure that the real killer or killers were brought to justice – whether it turned out to be him or someone else.
“After nearly a year of investigating the facts of the case, Syed deserves a new trial where it is adequately represented and the latest evidence can be presented,” Mosby said.
Although prosecutors did not name two alternative suspects, one specific name appeared in Serial the podcast that opened the case first.
Ronald Lee Moore, who died of suicide in a Louisiana prison in 2008, was convicted of a burglar and was also suspected of a number of other burglaries, unsolved sexual assaults and murders throughout Maryland. He was released from prison just 10 days before Lee disappeared.
Moore was part of the original investigation, but the DNA found at the crime scene did not match. The DNA did not match Syed either, and his lawyers said in 2019 that his DNA was not found on any of the 12 samples from the victim’s body and car.
After Moore’s death in 2008, he was linked to at least two murders of young women around the same time as Lee’s murder. In 2020, Moore was identified as the killer of 23-year-old Shawn Marie Neal who was found strangled in his apartment in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 1996. In 2013, Moore was also named as the sole suspect in the 1999 Baltimore murder of Annelise Hyang Suk Lee.
It is unclear if Moore is one of the two alternative suspects in Lee’s murder.
However, the step towards overturning Syed’s conviction of murder comes just months after state prosecutors and Syed’s attorneys have requested that Lee’s clothing be tested using new DNA technology.
A joint application for tactile DNA testing was submitted in March. The technology was not available at the time of the original process.
Syed’s dismissal follows after spending more than two decades behind bars for the murder of his ex-girlfriend and classmate.
18-year-old Lee disappeared without a trace on January 13, 1999, after leaving Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland, where she was in her senior year. Her body was found about a month later buried in a park in Baltimore. She was strangled.
Syed, who was 17 at the time, was arrested and charged with murder. In 2000, he was convicted of murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment and sentenced to life imprisonment.
His conviction was largely based on the testimony of his friend Jay Wilds, who claimed that Syed had confessed to killing Lee and asked for his help in digging a hole to bury her body in the park.
Wilds said he agreed to this because Syed had threatened to tell the police that he was conducting a drug operation that he feared would end up in jail.
Cell phone records were also used during the trial to place Syed at the scene of the crime. Investigators now questioned the reliability of this data.
Syed has always maintained his innocence and rejected a settlement in 2018 as it would require confessing to Lee’s murder.
His case caught the attention of the world in 2014 via a true crime podcast Serial.
The podcast, created by journalist Sarah Koenig, told the story of Lee’s murder and Syed’s conviction, raising doubts about his guilt or – at least – the indictment.
Witness Asia McClain was found to claim to have seen Syed in the public library at the time he was about to kill Lee.
One year after release SerialSyed was granted a new hearing which allowed his lawyers to present new evidence in the case.
In June 2016, Syed was granted a new trial after his attorneys claimed that Syed’s original trial attorney, who later died, was grossly negligent and after Mrs McClain testified in court about the library meeting.
Syed continued to be held behind bars after a judge refused to release him on bail.
Stan appealed the verdict, but the appeals court sided with Syed again in 2018 – upholding the decision to grant him a new trial and quash his conviction.
However, Maryland’s highest court overturned the lower court’s ruling the following year, denying Syed a new trial and reinstating his conviction.
The United States Supreme Court subsequently dismissed the request for his case to be heard in November 2019.