Baltimore officials said Wednesday that they have filed a motion to vacate the conviction of Adnan Syed, the subject of the popular podcast “Serial” who was convicted in February 2000 for murdering his ex-girlfriend. Officials on Wednesday requested another trial and said new evidence — including the existence of two potential alternative suspects — casts doubt on Syed’s prior conviction.
Syed was found guilty in 1999 of killing 17-year-old Hae Min Lee and was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.
“Since the inception of my administration, my prosecutors have been sworn to not only aggressively advocate on behalf of the victims of crime, but in the pursuit of justice, — when the evidence exists— to correct the wrongs of the past where doubt is evident,” Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement announcing the decision.
Prior to Lee’s disappearance on January 13, 1999, she and Syed were students at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland. Lee’s body was found buried weeks after she vanished in a park in Baltimore, and an autopsy later determined she had died of manual strangulation.
In February 2000, Syed was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery and false imprisonment.
Mosby and Sentencing Review Unit Chief Becky Feldman said in the statement on Wednesday that the decision is the result of a nearly year-long investigation that revealed previously undisclosed information about two potential alternate suspects and highlighted the unreliability of cell phone tower data that had been used in his original trial.
According to a document in the state’s original trial file and cited in the motion to vacate Syed’s conviction, one of the potential suspects allegedly said that “he would make her [Ms. Lee] disappear. He would kill her.” A different person “relayed information that can be viewed as a motive for that same suspect to harm the victim,” the motion said.
The statement also said Lee’s car was located “directly behind the house of one of the suspect’s family members.” Neither of the potential suspects were named.
“This information about the threat and motives to harm could have provided a basis for the defense and was not disclosed to the trial nor the post-conviction defense counsel,” the statement said.
The motion also highlighted the unreliability of the cell phone data records that were “critical pieces of evidence” at his original trial. Those cell phone records, according to the motion, had been used to corroborate witness Jay Wilds’ testimony that he and Syed buried Lee’s body in the park after he told Wilds he had killed her. But the motion cited serious concerns from multiple experts that the data could not be used to conclusively establish that Syed was in a specific location at a specific time, and faulted his defense counsel for not making that point at trial.
The statement emphasized that the attempt to vacate his conviction does not mean prosecutors have determined that Syed is innocent — but said that “considering the totality of the circumstances, the State lacks confidence in the integrity of the conviction.”
Syed’s attorney cheered the decision in a statement, writing, “Given the stunning lack of reliable evidence implicating Mr. Syed, coupled with increasing evidence pointing to other suspects, this unjust conviction cannot stand. Mr. Syed is grateful that this information has finally seen the light of day and looks forward to his day in court.”
This is far from the first time Syed’s conviction has been debated in the courts. He appealed the decision multiple times, and was successful in convincing a post-conviction court in 2016 that the use of the cell phone records violated his rights and merited a new trial. But the state appealed that decision, and after years of legal battles, an appeals courtin 2019. The Supreme Court declined to hear Syed’s subsequent appeal.