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Adnan Syed: Conviction overturned in Serial podcast murder case

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By Sam Cabral

BBC News, Washington

Image shows Adnan Syed leaving court in 2016Image source, Reuters

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Adnan Syed was convicted in 2000 of killing his ex-girlfriend

A judge has quashed a Baltimore man’s murder conviction in a case that spawned hit true crime podcast Serial.

Adnan Syed was 19 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the death of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, whose body was found buried in the woods in 1999.

Prosecutors last week asked the court to throw out his conviction, saying a year-long re-investigation had turned up two “alternative suspects”.

Syed will be released into home detention.

Now 41, his shackles were taken off in the courtroom after Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn vacated his 22-year conviction.

Monday’s decision does not mean Syed is innocent. Judge Phinn has ordered a new trial.

A jury in 2000 found Syed guilty of premeditated murder, kidnapping, robbery and false imprisonment.

Prosecutors argued he was a scorned lover who strangled Lee, his classmate at Woodlawn High School, and – with the help of a friend – hid her body in Baltimore’s Leakin Park.

Despite denying any involvement in her death, every appeal Syed has filed over the past two decades has been denied.

It was the 2014 podcast Serial that focused worldwide attention on the case and cast doubt on Syed’s guilt. Episodes of the show have been downloaded more than 340 million times. The case has also spawned other works, including a HBO docuseries in 2019.

The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, which studied the case over the past year alongside Syed’s latest defence attorney, said on Wednesday it lacked “confidence in the integrity of the conviction”.

Prosecutors said Syed “deserves a new trial” because they have identified two new potential suspects – neither of whom has yet been named – that were known to police since the 1999 murder.

“Our prosecutors have been sworn to not only aggressively advocate on behalf of victims of crime but when the evidence exists to exonerate those that have been falsely accused and convicted,” lead prosecutor Marilyn Mosby said outside the court, interrupted by loud cheers as Syed exited the building.

Judge Phinn on Monday said she was vacating Syed’s conviction “in the interest of justice”.

Before her ruling, the victim’s brother told the court on Monday through tears that he was “not against the investigation”, but had been blind-sided by prosecutors.

“Everyday when I think it’s over… or it’s ended, it always comes back. It’s killing me,” said Young Lee.

“It’s tough for me to swallow, especially for my mom.”

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