Court Reinstates Murder Conviction of Adnan Syed of ‘Serial’ — For Now

Adnan Syed conviction - Credit: Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
Adnan Syed conviction - Credit: Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

Adnan Syed’s journey through the court system is getting a final act. It’s on a technicality, but one that is of great importance to the family of murder victim Hae Min Lee. On Tuesday, the Maryland Appellate Court reinstated Syed’s conviction for Lee’s murder, deciding that a lower court had violated the right of Lee’s brother, Young Lee, to attend a hearing, held last October, where prosecutors announced they were dropping charges against him.

Steve Kelly, a lawyer for the Lee family spoke out at the time about the hearing taking place without Lee’s brother present. “The family received no notice and their attorney was offered no opportunity to be present at the proceeding,” Kelly told Rolling Stone in October. “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. All this family ever wanted was answers and a voice. Today’s actions robbed them of both.”

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Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said at the time she’d contacted Lee’s attorneys but hadn’t heard back. The court has ruled in favor of the Lee family, however, and ordered a redo of the hearing on the basis that the circuit court “violated Mr. Lee’s right to notice of, and his right to attend, the hearing on the State’s motion to vacate,” an opinion issued Tuesday by the court stated. “This Court has the power and obligation to remedy those violations,” it continued. “Accordingly, we vacate the circuit court’s order vacating Mr. Syed’s convictions, which results in the reinstatement of the original convictions and sentence.” The court then ordered a new evidentiary hearing, “where Mr. Lee is given notice of the hearing that is sufficient to allow him to attend in person, evidence supporting the motion to vacate is presented, and the court states its reasons in support of its decision.”

In response to the decision, David Sanford, another attorney for the Lee family, issued a statement. “We are delighted that the Appellate Court of Maryland agrees with Mr. Lee that his right to have reasonable notice of the Syed vacatur hearing and his right to be physically present at that hearing were violated by the trial court,” Sanford said. “We are equally pleased that the Appellate Court is directing the lower court to conduct a transparent hearing where the evidence will be presented in open court and the court’s decision will be based on evidence for the world to see.”

Syed’s attorney Erica J. Suter said they would fight the decision, saying the appeal by Lee’s family had nothing to do with Syed’s innocence, but with Lee’s brother not appearing at the hearing. “There is no basis for re-traumatizing Adnan by returning him to the status of a convicted felon,” Suter said. “Ensuring justice for Hae Min Lee does not require injustice for Adnan.”

Syed, the subject of the first season of the groundbreaking true crime podcast Serial, spent 23 years in prison for the murder of his former high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, before being released last fall, when prosecutors said he had been wrongfully convicted and that DNA evidence exonerated him. It was not immediately clear whether Syed would need to return to prison ahead of the new hearing, but Suter noted that for the time being, Syed remains a free man.

Updated 3/28 at 6:00 p.m. to include a statement from Syed’s attorney.

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