Adnan Syed, whose lengthy legal saga chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial,” is due for a court hearing on Monday to determine whether his murder sentence in the 1999 murder of He Min Lee will be overturned.
The resulting court date follows a request by Baltimore prosecutors two decades ago to overturn Syed’s sentence, citing an error by his predecessors, which they say prevented Syed from receiving a fair trial. Prosecutors said a new, annual investigation they conducted with defense attorney Erica Sutter found “alternative suspects” who were overlooked at the time.
Syed, 41, maintained his innocence in the murder of his former Woodlawn high school sweetheart, Lee, who was 18 years old. Lee was strangled to death and buried in a shallow grave in Leakin Park. Her body was discovered on January 13, 1999, almost a month after her disappearance. Officials at the time said they suspected Syed had clashed with Lee in a car before killing Lee.
Twenty-three years of investigation, trial and multiple appeals have set the stage for Monday’s hearing. As podcasts, documentaries and books chronicled the shocking death of Lee and the horrific legal saga of Syed, the case attracted international audiences.
Here’s what you need to know for Monday’s hearing before Circuit Judge Melissa Finn.
The motion from Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office focused on two alternate suspects, who now prosecutors say were prematurely overlooked by the officers investigating Lee’s murder. Court papers do not identify them or differentiate one’s actions from another’s.
“The two suspects may have been involved individually or may have been involved together,” prosecutors wrote.
According to the proposal, a suspect threatened to kill Lee. Prosecutors wrote that they discovered that information in the trial file of the original assistant state attorney, but it was not disclosed to the defense. This is a violation of the law, and prosecutors now say that information could have been paramount to Syed’s defense at trial.
Prosecutors say the joint investigation revealed alternate suspects had documented records of violence against women, including multiple convictions, for crimes that followed Syed’s trial. According to court papers, one suspect was convicted of a series of rapes. An accused has been convicted for assaulting a woman. One of the accused is accused of forcibly taking a woman hostage.
Prosecutors wrote that the joint investigation revealed that police had cleared one of the suspects in Lee’s death based on faulty polygraph tests.
It is unclear.
If Finn reverses Syed’s conviction, he will have to consider a near-term request from prosecutors to release him from custody.
Syed’s public defender, Sutter, who is director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, took no position on his release in his legal response in support of prosecutors’ request to vacate his sentence. If the case comes up, Sutter is expected to advocate for his client’s release.
Even if Finn orders Syed’s release, it is unclear when he will be released. This is partly because Monday afternoon’s hearing is a relatively unusual legal proceeding.
In Baltimore, when a person who is held in prison pending trial is found not guilty of all charges, the judge usually orders their release. Often, the actual release comes from prison several hours later or the next day.
A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said Syed, who is incarcerated at Patuxent Institution, a state prison in Jessup, will be in court for a hearing.
His family is also expected to attend.
Under Maryland law, victims must be notified of this type of hearing in advance and have the right to appear and be heard by a judge.
However, it is not clear which of Lee’s family members will attend Monday’s hearing.
Kurt Wolfgang, executive director of Maryland Crime Victims Resource, said the pace at which Finn set the hearing — Monday’s hearing ordered Friday afternoon — makes it harder for Lee’s immediate family to appear and retain counsel if they fail the proceedings. want to intervene. Kendra told The Baltimore Sun.
“It’s crazy,” Wolfgang said of how quickly Syed’s trial was scheduled.
A spokeswoman for the state attorney’s office, Zee Richardson, said the Lee family had been informed of the hearing.
Hee’s brother, Young Lee, lives in California and has declined media requests in the days when prosecutors decided to ask a judge to overturn Syed’s sentence.
Relatives of Lee had once spoken since the release of “serial”, maintaining their belief that Syed was guilty in a 2016 statement issued by the Maryland Attorney General’s office.
The family said, “It’s hard to see so many run to defend the perpetrator of a horrific crime that destroyed our family, who refuses to accept responsibility, when there are so few people to speak up for Ha. are ready.”
Wolfgang said Maryland law does not specifically say how much notice a victim’s family needs before a hearing, but conceives that they should be given a “reasonable” time to consider their options. It is possible that the family may ask Finn to postpone the hearing.
Finn rejected a plea deal for arsonist Luther Trent earlier this year after a lawyer for the victims intervened, saying he had not been given a sufficient opportunity to be heard in court. Finn, who presides over the city’s reception court, which serves as air traffic control for criminal cases, made a mistake by not hearing from the victims before accepting Trent’s plea agreement.
Since then, she regularly checks before sentencing whether prosecutors have given victims information about plea agreements and asks if victims want to explain how the crime affected their lives.
If Finn drops Syed’s sentence, he still faces murder, kidnapping, robbery and other crimes he was charged with in 1999.
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Prosecutors wrote in the motion that Syed is “at least” eligible for a new trial.
According to the proposal, the state generally gets to decide whether to go ahead with the new trial or drop the charges. That decision hinges on a re-investigation of Lee’s death, prosecutors wrote.
Baltimore police said they are again investigating the high-profile homicide.
Experts told The Sun that the investigation into a decades-old murder requires considerable time and resources – far more than a recent murder. Some questioned whether city police could adequately investigate the case given the steady rate of violent crime: Baltimore is on pace to register more than 300 murders for the eighth year in a row.
Captain John Bollinger of the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office investigated the murders, including cold cases, for the past 13 years of a career spanning nearly three decades with the Maryland State Police.
“Not only do you have to search for all these evidence and put it in order and fit it into the scene, but then you have to take extra steps to figure out how you know it and how it happened … years ago. This original The case is about, what the original detectives did … years ago. ‘Yeah, we can verify that, they did it, and now the piece fits now,'” Bollinger told The Sun.
“I used to say when I was working on these cold cases, ‘I’ll have a new one any day,'” he continued. “It’s the hardest thing you can ever do.”