BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore judge on Monday ordered Adnan Said’s release after overturning his conviction for the 1999 murder of high school student Hemin Lee. He nailed listeners and revolutionized the genre.
At the request of prosecutors who uncovered new evidence, Circuit Court Judge Melissa Finn approved the release of Sayid, now 41, after spending more than 20 years in prison, thus ordering her conviction to be vacated. . There were gasps and applause in the crowded courtroom as the judge announced her decision.
Phinn ruled that the state had violated its legal obligation to share evidence that could strengthen Syed’s defense. The judge also said the state would have 30 days to decide whether to seek a new trial date or dismiss the lawsuit.
“Okay Mr. Sayid, you are free to join the family,” Finn said when the hearing ended.
Minutes later, Said emerged from the courthouse, smiling as he was ushered into a waiting SUV amidst a sea of cameras and a crowd of cheering supporters.
Said did not speak at the hearing and did not speak to reporters outside afterwards. However, after the hearing, his attorney, Erica Suter, said of his reaction to the decision:
Says Syed’s friend Sara Patel: We were on pins and needles the whole time. ”
Said has always maintained his innocence. His case led the 2014 debut season of “Serial” to focus on Lee’s murder, question some of the evidence used by prosecutors, and question Said’s innocence or guilt at the dinner table and in the water cooler. It caught the attention of millions when it sparked a heated debate.
Last week, prosecutors filed a complaint that a lengthy investigation conducted by the defense had uncovered new evidence that could undermine Lee’s ex-boyfriend Saeed’s 2000 conviction.
“I understand how difficult this is, but we need to make sure we put the blame on the right person,” Becky Feldman, the state’s assistant attorney, told the judge and identified other suspects. He described various details of a case that undermines a decades-old conviction, including: flawed cell phone data, unreliable witness testimony, and potentially biased detectives.
After the hearing, State Attorney Marilyn Mosby said investigators could wait for the results of a “DNA analysis” before seeking a new trial date or drop the case against Said and “prove his innocence.” He said he would decide.
Said was serving a life sentence after being convicted of strangling 18-year-old Lee, who was found buried in a park in Baltimore.
Mosby’s office said in a news release last week that “an investigation uncovered undisclosed, newly developed information about two alternate suspects and unreliable cell tower data.” The other suspects were known at the time of the initial investigation, but as the investigation was ongoing, prosecutors who refused to release information about the suspects were not properly barred. It has not been disclosed to the defense.
Prosecutors said they did not claim Saeed was innocent but were unsure of the “integrity of the conviction” and recommended his release on his own accord or bail. It said the motion, if granted, would effectively put it in a new trial position to vacate Syed’s conviction, but the case remained ongoing.
Said was handcuffed and taken to a crowded courtroom on Monday. In a white shirt and tie, he sat next to a lawyer. His mother and other family representatives were in the room, as was Mosby.
In 2016, a lower court ordered a retrial for Saeed on the grounds that Saeed’s attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, who died in 2004, failed to contact an alibi witness and provided invalid counsel.
However, after a series of appeals, in 2019 Maryland’s Supreme Court dismissed the new trial by a 4-3 vote. The Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s opinion that Syed’s attorneys were flawed in their failure to investigate alibi witnesses, but did not agree that the flaws prejudiced the case. He said he had dismissed his lawyer’s claims.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Syed’s case in 2019.
The true crime series was the brainchild of longtime radio producer and former Baltimore Sun Reporter Sarah Koenig. He spent her more than a year digging into Sayid’s case, reporting her findings in near real-time in her hour-long segments. The 12-episode podcast won a Peabody Award and revolutionized the reach of podcasts to a wider audience.
During the hearing, Lee Hye-min’s older brother Yong Lee said in court that he felt betrayed by the prosecution because he thought the case had been resolved.
“This is not a podcast to me. This is reality,” he said.
Speaking outside court after the verdict, Mosby expressed sympathy for Lee’s brother and said he understood why he felt betrayed.
“But as administrators of the criminal justice system, we also understand the importance of ensuring equality, justice and fairness. That is also the right of defendants,” she added.
___ AP writers Mike Kanzelman and Sarah Brumfield of Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report.