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Baltimore prosecutors file motion to vacate conviction of Adnan Syed, subject of 'Serial' podcast

Baltimore prosecutors file motion to vacate conviction of Adnan Syed, subject of 'Serial' podcast
Baltimore prosecutors file motion to vacate conviction of Adnan Syed, subject of 'Serial' podcast 03:04

BALTIMORE -- Baltimore prosecutors filed a motion to vacate the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, a man who has maintained his innocence after he was convicted in 2000 of killing his high school ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, a family representative confirmed to CBS Baltimore.

Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Wednesday her office is seeking a new trial after a nearly-year long investigation revealed two new possible suspects.

If the motion is granted, prosecutors argue Syed should be released pending a new trial date.

"After a nearly year-long investigation reviewing the facts of this case, Syed deserves a new trial where he is adequately represented and the latest evidence can be presented," Mosby said in a statement. "As stewards of the court, we are obligated to uphold confidence in the integrity of convictions and do our part to correct when this standard has been compromised."

Prosecutors have "spoken with the family of Ms. Hae Min Lee and fully understand that the person responsible for this heinous crime must be held accountable," she added.

The case was first brought to national attention in the 2014 podcast "Serial" and a 2019 documentary "The Case Against Adnan Syed," both of which raised questions about the prosecution of Syed. 

In March, the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office agreed to new DNA testing that Syed's lawyers believe could clear his name.

Mosby said Wednesday investigators found trace levels of male DNA after testing swabs from Lee's fingernails, shirt and fingernail clippings, items which were not tested during a separate inquiry in 2018.

"The swabs from the right fingernail and shirt were then analyzed with a genotyping kit that targets male Y-chromosome STR DNA," Mosby's office said in a motion. "However, no useful typing results were obtained from this analysis."

The re-investigation of the case presented evidence against two unnamed suspects, who were known to law enforcement at the time.

A document in the state's trial file included information on a witness who said one suspect had threatened to kill Lee, according to the motion.

The suspect said: "He would make her [Ms. Lee] disappear. He would kill her." 

Syed's attorneys did not receive this information at the time of the trial, a possible violation of the Brady rule requiring prosecutors to turn over all exculpatory evidence.

Additionally, Lee's car was found parked behind the Baltimore residence of one of the suspects. This detail was newly discovered by investigators in 2022, prosecutors said in the motion.

Prosecutors and representatives for Syed found allegations of rape, sexual assault and violent attacks against women, according to the motion.

Syed was convicted in February 2000 of killing Lee, who was 17 at the time and disappeared on Jan. 13, 1999. Syed was also 17 at the time. Both were students at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County.

Lee's body was found several weeks later in Leakin Park. An autopsy report stated she had died from manual strangulation.

Syed was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The case against Syed relied largely on the testimony of one man, Jay Wilds, who claimed Syed asked him to help bury the body. 

"He said, 'the police told me all of this,' so you know, this guy is now on the record of saying I just made up stuff," said Rabia Chaudry. 

Chaudry is Syed's childhood friend who wrote a book on the case. She's devoted years to her friend's freedom. 

"How do you walk away from somebody and say, 'Too bad for you, you're innocent, but you're gonna die in prison,' and there's no way I could do that," she told WJZ Wednesday. 

"The motion lays out the case really beautifully as to why he deserves at a minimum a new trial, if not just being exonerated and so we're hoping they'll grant the motion and if they do, Adnan will be released," said Chaudry. 

Attorneys with the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, Syed's attorneys post-conviction, said Wednesday they are seeking to have the conviction overturned.  

"Given the stunning lack of reliable evidence implicating Mr. Syed, coupled with increasing evidence pointing to other suspects, this unjust conviction cannot stand," said Assistant Public Defender Erica Suter, Syed's attorney and director of the Innocence Project Clinic. "Mr. Syed is grateful that this information has finally seen the light of day and looks forward to his day in court."

The clinic is a collaboration between the Maryland Office of the Public Defender and the law school.

In 2014, the podcast "Serial," narrated by "This American Life" producer and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, raised questions about Syed's prosecution.

The episodes made the argument Syed's conviction was mostly based on cell phone tower data at the time that could have been a Brady violation, and talked with a new witness, Asia McClain, who said she saw Syed the day Lee was murdered -- corroborating his timeline of events. Syed said he was at a library at the time of Lee's killing.

Syed's appeal for a new trial reached the Supreme Court in 2019.

The justices declined to hear his appeal, leaving in place a 4-3 ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals denying Syed a new trial.

A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge granted Syed a new trial in 2016, but the state's highest court ruling in March 2019 reversed the decision.

Prosecutors are continuing to investigate this case, but in the meantime, they've asked a judge to release Syed from prison at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup. 

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