Judge Vacates Murder Conviction of Adnan Syed of ‘Serial’

Judge Vacates Murder Conviction of Adnan Syed of ‘Serial’

A judge in Baltimore overturned the murder conviction of Adnan Syed on Monday afternoon, a decision that could soon set Mr. Syed free after 23 years behind bars in a case that was chronicled in the first season of the podcast “Serial.”

Prosecutors have yet to decide if they will seek a new trial or drop the charges against Mr. Syed. They said that an investigation had pointed to two possible “alternative suspects,” although those individuals have not been named publicly or charged.

Mr. Syed, 41, had been serving a life sentence for the strangulation of his high school classmate and onetime girlfriend Hae Min Lee, whose body was found buried in a park in Baltimore County in 1999.

Mr. Syed, who was 17 at the time, had steadfastly maintained his innocence, and questions about whether he had received a fair trial drew widespread attention when “Serial” debuted in 2014.

In a motion filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Wednesday, prosecutors said that a nearly yearlong investigation, conducted with Mr. Syed’s lawyer, had uncovered information pointing to the possible involvement of two “alternative suspects,” as well as key evidence that prosecutors might have failed to disclose to Mr. Syed’s lawyers in violation of their legal duty.

The investigation also identified “significant reliability issues regarding the most critical pieces of evidence” used to convict Mr. Syed, including cellphone tower data.

Ms. Lee’s family expressed concern that prosecutors had not given them adequate notice about the move to vacate the conviction. During a hearing Monday, Steve Kelly, the family’s lawyer, asked Judge Melissa M. Phinn of Baltimore City Circuit to postpone a decision on the motion.

But a prosecutor said the state had given proper notice, and Judge Phinn rejected the request. As the court took a recess, Mr. Kelly scrambled to call Ms. Lee’s brother, Young Lee, at work to ask him join the hearing via Zoom. Mr. Syed, dressed in a shirt and tie, looked on during the dispute.

“This is not a podcast for me,” Mr. Lee said, voice wavering, when he addressed the court about 45 minutes later on Zoom. “This is real life — a never-ending nightmare for 20-plus years.”

He said he felt “blindsided” and “betrayed” by the motion to vacate, and frustrated with the many turns in the case over the last two decades. “Whenever I think it’s over, and it’s ended, it always comes back,” Mr. Lee said, adding: “It’s killing me and killing my mother.”

Prosecutors said in the motion that they were not asserting that Mr. Syed was innocent. And they said they would ultimately decide whether to proceed with a new trial or drop the charges after they completed their investigation.

This is a developing story.

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