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Criminal Law

Adnan Syed Whose Case Launched 1,000 Podcasts Gets a New Trial

Adnan Syed, whose case was the subject of the immensely popular and influential podcast “Serial,” has had his conviction reversed by Baltimore prosecutors. 23 years ago, when Mr. Syed was 17, he convicted of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment in the death of Ms. Lee, who had been strangled and whose body was found in a shallow grave in Leakin Park, at Baltimore’s western edge. Syed and Lee had dated.

Focusing on whether Mr. Syed received a fair trial, “Serial” made its debut in 2014. The series was downloaded more than 175 million times, won a Peabody Award and became the template for similar true crime podcasts – to the point of parody. Both SNL and the new Hulu hit “Only Murders in the Building” have mimicked the style and format of Serial.

Today, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office asked a judge for a new trial for Syed, saying the state “no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction,” the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a court filing. That filing indicates that evidence pointing to two other suspects was withheld from Mr. Syed’s attorney and the trial jury. Prosecutors wrote they do not concede Syed is innocent, but they no longer have faith in his conviction. “There is an abundance of issues that gives the State overwhelming cause for concern,” Baltimore prosecutors wrote in court filings, according to the Journal. Prosecutors also pledged to “ensure that justice is done” for Lee.

“Serial” was downloaded 175,000,000 times!! IMage courtesy of eonline.com

Back in March, prosecutors in Maryland had consented to a request by Syed to conduct new DNA tests on evidence used to convict him of the 1999 case. The DNA motion was also filed jointly by prosecutors in Baltimore and a lawyer for Mr. Syed, who is serving a life sentence in the killing of Ms. Lee. The body of Ms. Lee, a high school classmate who once dated Mr. Syed, was found in a park in Baltimore County. Mr. Syed was 17 at the time. That request came when Mr. Syed filed a motion for re-sentencing under a newly enacted statute giving some relief to youthful offenders convicted of crimes after being tried as a an adult.

Mr. Syed, 40, has always steadfastly maintained his innocence and is still seeking to be exonerated. An appeals court vacated his conviction in 2018, ruling that he had received ineffective legal counsel, but Maryland’s highest court overturned that decision in 2019.

The news means Syed could get a new trial or potentially be freed after more than 20 years in prison. According to the Journal, prosecutors recommended Syed be released without bond conditions as long as he promises to make necessary court appearances, as continuing to detain him while an investigation is ongoing would be “unjust,” they said.

The case gives hope to many people facing wrongful convictions in the face of declaring their innocence. It highlights the importance of criminal justice reform; cooperative prosecutors’ offices in investigating problematic cases; and the need for clients and their lawyers to simply never give up.

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