Adnan Syed: US prosecutor moves to toss murder conviction

Case gained attention through podcast and HBO series Serial

Prosecutors asked a judge to vacate Adnan Syed's conviction for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee. AP
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A US prosecutor asked a judge on Wednesday to vacate the conviction of a man who has served more than 20 years in prison for his ex-girlfriend's 1999 murder — a case that received worldwide attention thanks to the hit podcast Serial.

Adnan Syed, 42, has been serving a life sentence since 2000 for the murder of Hae Min Lee, whose body was found buried in February 1999 in a shallow grave in the woods of Baltimore, Maryland.

The 18-year-old Lee had been strangled.

Adnan Syed (Illustration by Kagan Mcleod)

Syed has steadfastly maintained his innocence but his several appeals have been denied, including by the US Supreme Court, which declined in 2019 to hear his case.

In a surprise move on Wednesday, the Baltimore City state's attorney, Marilyn Mosby, announced that she had asked a judge to vacate Syed's conviction.

Syed should be released while prosecutors conduct an investigation to determine whether he should be granted a new trial or whether the charges should be dropped, Ms Mosby said in a statement.

The move was prompted by the discovery of “undisclosed and newly developed information regarding two alternative suspects, as well as unreliable cell phone tower data”, she said.

“Syed deserves a new trial where he is adequately represented and the latest evidence can be presented,” she added.

The Baltimore City state's attorney's office said they are “not asserting, at this time, that Mr Syed is innocent” but it “lacks confidence in the integrity of the conviction”.

The case earned attention when it was taken up by Serial, a weekly podcast in which a US journalist revisited his conviction and cast doubt on his guilt.

His case has also been the subject of a four-part documentary on the HBO channel called The Case Against Adnan Syed.

The Serial podcast — a mix of investigative journalism, first-person narrative and storytelling — focused its first season on Syed's story in 12 nail-biting episodes.

Both Syed and Lee were on the high school honour roll and children from immigrant families — he Pakistani, she South Korean — who had concealed their relationship from their conservative parents.

Prosecutors said during the trial that Syed was a “scorned lover” who felt humiliated after Lee broke up with him.

Mr Mosby's office said reinvestigation of the case has “revealed evidence regarding the possible involvement of two alternative suspects” who were “not properly ruled out nor disclosed to the defence”.

Doubt has also been cast on the accuracy of mobile phone data records that were used to determine Syed's whereabouts on the day of the murder, it added.

Updated: September 15, 2022, 6:08 AM