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Baltimore: Murder charges dropped against Adnan Syed who spent 23 years in jail, all you need to know about the case made famous by Serial podcast

In 2000, Baltimore man Adnan Syed was convicted of his ex-girlfriend's murder, but the conviction was was vacated last month, and now charges against him dropped

On Tuesday, Prosecutors in the United States dismissed all the allegations against a Baltimore man named Adnan Syed whose case gained international attention due to the blockbuster true crime podcast titled Serial. Syed was sentenced to life in jail plus 30 years for the murder of his ex-girlfriend named Hae Min Lee. However, his conviction was overturned last month, and all charges were withdrawn by the prosecutors on October 11.

Erica Suter, who represented Syed in the court, confirmed the development and said that finally Adnan was set free from the charges. “Adnan is innocent and lost 23 years of his life serving time for a crime he did not commit”, she added. Baltimore’s state attorney Marilyn Mosby also addressed a press meet on Tuesday and said that the case against Syed had been closed and that he cannot be charged again in the case.

“Today, justice is done”, Mosby said adding that her office would continue its efforts to adjudicate anyone who is responsible for Lee’s death. The charges were withdrawn when the first round of touch DNA testing on Lee’s garments revealed multiple DNA traces on her shoes, none of which belonged to Adnan Syed.

A lengthy inquiry by the Baltimore state attorney’s office concluded that Syed had been unfairly convicted of strangling and murdering Lee, and that the DNA testing had confirmed that he was not involved in Lee’s death. The murder conviction of the 41-year-old Syed was overturned last month after authorities found two additional potential suspects following a year-long case review. Prosecutors then had 30 days to determine whether to retry Syed or dismiss the charges against him.

The incident of murder happened in 1999, when Hae Min Lee disappeared on January 13. While the police had launched a search operation to find her, Lee’s partially buried body was found almost a month later on 9th February 1999. Police suspected Syed of the murder and arrested him. In February 2000, the jury found Syed guilty of kidnapping and murdering his high school classmate and ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Syed was found guilty of premeditated murder, kidnapping, robbery and false imprisonment. Prosecutors claimed that he was a frustrated lover who murdered Lee and buried her corpse in Baltimore’s Leakin Park with the help of a friend. They relied on cell phone location data, which has now been proven untrustworthy.

Adnan Syed has been maintaining that he is innocent all these years, and has filed several appeals against his conviction in the last two decades. All of his applications were rejected by the courts, but in 2015, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals approved Syed’s application for permission to appeal as new evidence had emerged showing that the cell tower evidence used by prosecutors was misleading and should not have been admitted at trial. In 2016, the court granted the request for a new trial, and the conviction of Syed was vacated.

While the prosecutors had appealed against this order, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld Syed’s request for a new trial in 2018. But in 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected Syed’s appeal for a new trial.

However, things changed suddenly last month when the prosecutors approached courts seeking to revoke the conviction of Syed and seeking a fresh trial against him. Police also said that they have two other potential suspects in the case. Accordingly, Baltimore Circuit Judge vacated the conviction on September 19, released him from the prison, and ordered a new trial against Syed. And now, all charges against him have been dropped by the prosecution, which means there will be no new trial in the case against Syed.

What is the ‘Serial’ podcast

Syed’s case became a source of international interest following the 2014 publication of the ‘Serial’ podcast, which re-examined his now 22-year-old murder conviction. More than a decade after Syed was sentenced to jail, Rabia Chaudry, a Baltimore-based counsel and family friend of Syed, contacted a journalist named Sarah Koenig and requested her to re-investigate Lee’s murder.

The show debuted in 2014, with each episode attempting to piece together a timeline of what occurred on that night when Lee was murdered. Syed’s version of the story and the incident were detailed in the hugely popular true crime podcast Serial, casting doubt on his conviction. The show’s programs have been downloaded over 340 million times.

The journalist questioned the kids (now adults) to figure out about Lee and her activities on the day she was murdered. Accordingly, each episode of ‘Serial’ revealed new detail about the case and introduced potential new suspects in the case.

Koenig also explained why the case was tossed out in an episode of Serial that was aired after Syed’s conviction was overturned. She claims his attorneys argued that fresh evidence had surfaced demonstrating that prosecutors neglected to examine and rule out two potential suspects who were known to the investigators at the time during the previous trial. Syed’s attorneys also called into question the credibility of witness statements and cell phone data used to convict him.

A court agreed, and Syed’s conviction was reversed. The state’s attorney’s office eventually absolved Syed of all charges based on that new evidence, as well as repeated rounds of DNA testing that indicated Syed’s DNA was not found on any of the victims’ clothes.

Lee Family seeks justice

Meanwhile, Lee’s family chose not to participate in Serial, claiming that Syed was rightfully convicted and that justice was delivered at the initial trial. According to the Baltimore Sun, after Syed was granted a new trial in 2016, his family informed reporters that the podcast had reopened pains few can comprehend.  

Recently, Young Lee, the victim’s brother, made an emotive appeal on behalf of the family in court. “This is not a podcast for me. This is real life – a never-ending nightmare for 20-plus years”, he had said. “If the wrong person has been behind bars for 23 years, the Lee family and the rest of the world want to understand what new evidence has led to that conclusion”, the family’s attorney Steve Kelly was quoted saying.

Though Syed has been cleared of murder charges, questions still remain about who killed Hae Min Lee. Prosecutors have hinted that they may have found additional suspects, but no one has been named so far. The decision to re-open her murder case may reopen old wounds for the bereaved Lee family.

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