A Maryland court reinstated the murder conviction against Adnan Syed, who served 22 years in prison before his conviction was vacated last fall and whose case was the subject of the hit podcast “Serial.”
The Appellate Court of Maryland ruled on Tuesday that the family members of murder victim Hae Min Lee, Syed’s ex-girlfriend who was killed in 1999, were not given notice in enough time to allow them to attend the court hearing that led to Syed’s release in person.
The decision reinstates Syed’s conviction and sentence, the court ruled, but Syed will not be taken back into custody.
Erica Suter, Syed’s attorney and the director of the Innocence Project at the University of Baltimore Law School, said the appeal of vacating the convictions was “not about Adnan’s innocence but about notice and mootness.”
Court: Victim’s family had the right to attend hearing
The court said in its decision that Lee’s brother, Young Lee, was only notified of the hearing one business day in advance. It was “insufficient time to reasonably allow Mr. Lee, who lived in California, to attend the hearing in person, and therefore, the court required Mr. Lee to attend the hearing remotely,” the court wrote.
“We remand for a new, legally compliant, and transparent hearing on the motion to vacate, 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,” the decision said.
Suter, Syed’s attorney, said Lee’s virtual attendance at the hearing was sufficient.
The victim’s brother had previously said he felt betrayed by prosecutors and said his family believed the case was settled for over two decades.
In a statement after Syed’s conviction was vacated, family members said they were “disappointed” that the hearing in September “happened so quickly and with virtually no notice, and they do not understand why the court acted the way it did and why the prosecutor’s office has made the recommendation they did.”
Lee was strangled at age 18. Her body was found weeks after her death, buried in a Baltimore park.
Conviction was vacated after hit podcast
Syed was freed six months ago when a Baltimore judge ruled that the state violated its legal obligation to share exculpatory evidence with Syed’s defense. Prosecutors later dropped murder charges against him, saying new DNA test results suggested his innocence.
Syed was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years in 2000 for the 1999 murder of Lee, his ex-girlfriend and former classmate. He has maintained his innocence since age 17.
Prosecutors last fall said they no longer had confidence in the original case against Syed. Supporters and listeners of the “Serial” podcast have said its 2014 release highlighted glaring problems with both the prosecution’s and defense’s cases. In the decades after his conviction, multiple appeals were denied despite mass advocacy and public attention.
It wasn’t until Baltimore’s state’s attorney filed a motion to vacate the conviction judgment against him in September, saying a lengthy investigation uncovered new evidence that could undermine his 2000 murder conviction.
“There is no basis for re-traumatizing Adnan by returning him to the status of a convicted felon,” Suter said in a statement. “We remain optimistic that justice will be done. We intend to seek review… and will continue to fight until Adnan’s convictions are fully vacated. Ensuring justice for Hae Min Lee does not require injustice for Adnan.”
Contributing: Celina Tebor