Nearly a month after his murder conviction was vacated, prosecutors in Maryland dropped charges against Adnan Syed on Tuesday.
The decision ends Syed's decadeslong battle against his conviction for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, a case that was chronicled in the popular podcast show Serial.
"The case is over," Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a press conference Tuesday, noting that new DNA findings excluded Syed as a suspect.
"This morning, I instructed my office to dismiss the criminal case against Adnan Syed, following the completion of a second round of touch DNA testing of items that were never tested before," Mosby said. "Those items include a skirt, pantyhose, shoes, and jacket of Hae Min Lee. Although no DNA was recovered from the skirt, the pantyhose, or jacket swabs, there was a DNA mixture of multiple contributors on both Miss Lee's shoes — the same multiple contributor for both of Miss Lee's shoes."
"Most compellingly," Mosby said, Syed's DNA "was excluded."
Mosby confirmed that touch DNA analysis of skin cells left behind on evidence at a crime scene has only been available since 2003, four years after Syed's case was prosecuted.
"Finally, Adnan Syed is able to live as a free man," Erica Suter, Syed's attorney, said in a statement. "The DNA results confirmed what we have already known and what underlies all of the current proceedings: that Adnan is innocent and lost 23 years of his life serving time for a crime he did not commit."
Syed's murder conviction was vacated by a judge in September after prosecutors unusually asked for his release, citing evidence that was not previously disclosed to his defense team, including two other potential suspects and unreliable cellphone data that they heavily leaned on during the trial.
He had been on house arrest since being released.
Prosecutors had 30 days to try him again or drop the charges. Mosby said at the time that her decision would be based on DNA results. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Suter said the dismissal of Syed's case is "an important step."
"He still needs some time to process everything that has happened," Suter said.
Steve Kelly, the Lee family's lawyer, said they learned about Syed's case being dismissed through the media on Tuesday.
"The family received no notice and their attorney was offered no opportunity to be present at the proceeding. By rushing to dismiss the criminal charges, the State's Attorney's office sought to silence Hae Min Lee's family and to prevent the family and the public from understanding why the State so abruptly changed its position of more than 20 years," he said.
"All this family ever wanted was answers and a voice," Kelly added. "Today's actions robbed them of both."
Syed was convicted in 2000 of murdering Lee, whose body was found in a park after she went missing in January 1999. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.
Syed has long maintained his innocence. The Serial podcast, which reassessed his case and the evidence presented by prosecutors, became a massive hit and helped launch a national campaign for his release.
Lee's family filed an appeal earlier this month, saying they did not receive adequate notice about the new evidence that caused the state to reverse its position on Syed's conviction.
"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," their lawyer said.
"If Mr. Syed has been wrongfully convicted for Hae Min Lee’s murder, the state of Maryland would need to take responsibility for that extraordinary miscarriage of justice and would need to do everything possible to bring the actual killer to justice," Kelly said.
"It's still an open and pending case," Mosby said Tuesday, "but with regard to Adnan Syed, the case is finished."