Prosecutors in Maryland asked a judge on Wednesday to vacate the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, the Baltimore man who has spent two decades in prison for the 1999 murder of ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee and who was featured in the first season of the hit 2014 podcast Serial.
In a stunning legal development, the state’s attorney for Baltimore City said in a motion that they don't necessarily believe Syed is innocent, but they do believe he should be released from prison pending an investigation and new trial because they "no longer [have] confidence in the integrity of the conviction."
"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 comprised," State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement. "We 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.”
Prosecutors said that a nearly yearlong review of the case conducted with the defense had uncovered potentially exculpatory evidence that was never shared with Syed's original team in what is known as a "Brady violation."
This evidence included two potential other suspects, who were not identified publicly in Wednesday's motion, and involved a statement from one person who said one of the suspects had a motive to kill Lee and had threatened her.
This unnamed suspect said “he would make her disappear," the court filing reads. "He would kill her.”
Lee's car was also found in a grassy lot behind a Baltimore house belonging to a relative of one of the suspects.
“This information was not available to the Defendant in his trial in 2000, and the State believes it would have provided persuasive support substantiating the defense that another person was responsible for the victim’s death,” prosecutors wrote.
Following Syed's trial, one of these suspects was convicted of attacking a woman inside her car, one suspect was convicted of multiple instances of rape and sexual assault, and one was violent with a woman known to them (it is not clear from the motion whether these were all the same suspect).
Prosecutors said they find those incidents “relevant” now that they have turned attention to these other suspects.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report the motion.
“Given the stunning lack of reliable evidence implicating Mr. Syed, coupled with increasing evidence pointing to other suspects, this unjust conviction cannot stand,” Erica Suter, Syed’s public defender and director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore Law School, said in a statement. “Mr. Syed is grateful that this information has finally seen the light of day and looks forward to his day in court.”
Lee went missing in January 1999 and her body was not found until a month later in a park in the Baltimore area.
Prosecutors said then-17-year-old Syed had strangled his ex-girlfriend and Woodlawn High School classmate.
He maintained his innocence but was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.
But the Serial podcast later raised doubts about the cellphone data used in the case, as well as the integrity of his defense.
An appeals court ruled in 2018 that Syed should be granted a new trial because his original defense attorney had failed to investigate an alibi witness who claimed to have seen him in their high school library during the time prosecutors said Lee was murdered.
However, that decision was reversed the following year.
"This is a major development in Adnan’s case, one that should lead to him finally getting justice🙏🤲🏼," Rabia Chaudry, a childhood friend and advocate for Syed, tweeted on Wednesday. "Taking it in still, deep breaths!"
The team behind Serial also reacted, tweeting, "This is big news. For the first time, Baltimore prosecutors are saying they don't have confidence in Adnan Syed's conviction and are asking for his release."