Hearing date set for oral arguments in appeal of decision to overturn Adnan Syed’s murder conviction

Hearing date set for oral arguments in appeal of decision to overturn Adnan Syed’s murder conviction

The Appellate Court of Maryland will hear oral arguments Feb. 2 about whether the September court proceedings that led Adnan Syed’s 22-year-old murder conviction to be overturned were held correctly.

The court was expected to hear oral arguments in this appeal after all parties — the state of Maryland, Syed and the family of Hae Min Lee — filed their briefs in the case. Starting Wednesday, the Appellate Court of Maryland is the new name for the Court of Special Appeals.

Syed, whose legal journey became known internationally after the hit podcast “Serial,” spent 23 years in prison for the murder of Lee, his ex-high school girlfriend. Syed has always maintained his innocence, and in September, Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn ordered his conviction overturned and released him from prison.

Phinn’s ruling came after prosecutors and Syed’s defense attorney, Erica Suter, performed a yearlong investigation into his case that uncovered evidence that the original prosecutors in the case had withheld information about a possible “alternative suspect” in Lee’s death.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby held an October press conference announcing she had dropped all charges against Syed, effectively exonerating him.

Young Lee, Hae Min Lee’s brother, is appealing Phinn’s decision because he believes his rights as a crime victim under Maryland law were violated. Mosby’s office gave Young Lee less than one business day’s notice about the hearing to overturn Syed’s conviction, leaving him virtually no time to prepare arguments to the contrary or for him to attend in person, his lawyer wrote in court filings.

Mosby’s office and Syed’s attorney disagree, saying no rights were violated. The Maryland Attorney General’s Office, which represents the prosecution in appellate matters, wrote in its own court filing it believes Young Lee was not given fair notice.

Young Lee is asking for the appellate court to order a redo of the September hearing, and to ensure that evidence and witnesses could be called at that hearing.

Recent revelations in the case have raised questions about the evidence cited to overturn Syed’s conviction.

In the motion to overturn Syed’s murder conviction, Mosby’s office said it found a handwritten note from the original prosecutor, Kevin Urick, that showed another person, someone close to Syed, had threatened to kill Lee.

More than two decades ago, Urick scribbled the following sentence on a yellow legal pad, along with information about a man prosecutors are now labeling an alternative suspect in Lee’s death.

“He told her that he would make her disappear,” Urick wrote. “He would kill her.”

Had Cristina Gutierrez, Syed’s defense attorney at trial who died in 2004, known about the threat, she may have used it to defend her client, argued Assistant State’s Attorney Becky Feldman in the motion to vacate Syed’s conviction. Feldman And Suter said in separate court filings that the note, or any mention of it, doesn’t appear in Gutierrez’s files, and that none of Syed’s appellate attorneys knew about it either.

The note is poorly written and hard to read. Urick, in a footnote to a transcription of the note he recently made for the attorney general’s office, now says Mosby’s office misinterpreted the note.

Urick wrote that the threat present-day prosecutors are attributing to an alternative suspect was actually made by Syed, according to people familiar with the transcription but who are not authorized to speak publicly. The note has not been released publicly, and Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office has not stated publicly whether it agrees with Urick’s transcription.

In an appellate filing in Syed’s case, lawyers for Frosh wrote that the note is subject to “multiple” interpretations but did not attribute the threat to Syed.