- The Maryland man, who inspired the podcast “Serial,” has been serving a life sentence since 2000, when he was convicted of killing his high school classmate and ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, 17.
Adnan Syed, whose murder trial inspired the podcast “Serial,” could be one step closer to being exonerated. Last week, Syed’s legal team filed a joint motion with the Baltimore City State’s Attorney requesting that the court order modern DNA testing on his victim’s clothing, shoes and rape kit. They argued that the additional forensic testing Syed requested was merited in his case because of advances in genetic profiling.
Syed, now 40, of Baltimore, Maryland, has been serving a life sentence since 2000, when he was convicted of killing his high school classmate and ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, 17. Lee’s body was found in a shallow grave in Leakin Park, at Baltimore’s western edge in 1999. Syed was arrested, and convicted of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment in the death of Lee. Syed has maintained his innocence, and the podcast drew widespread attention to his case.
The motion filed noted that “Lee’s clothing, shoes, and certain other evidence recovered from the scene have not been subject to DNA testing,” The New York Times reported. “(Syed) seeks to use the most advanced DNA testing methodologies that are currently available to analyze the biological evidence collected from the scene in an effort to exculpate him,” said the motion, according to The Times.
In a statement provided to People, defense attorney Erica J. Suter said that the team is “eager to finally have access to the forensic tools to establish Mr. Syed’s innocence. She said Syed “has been waiting more than two decades for the opportunity to exonerate himself, not just in the court of public opinion, but in the court of law.” She applauded the state’s attorney “for recognizing the serious concerns in his case, after several months of deliberation and review, and agreeing that DNA testing is needed.”
In a statement on March 10, Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore City state’s attorney, said that while reviewing Syed’s case “for a possible re-sentencing, it became clear that additional forensic testing — which was not available at the time of the original investigation and trial in this case — would be an appropriate avenue to pursue.”
Syed Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and friend of Syed’s family who first brought his case to the attention of “This American Life,” which developed the podcast, took to social media to celebrate the latest development in Syed’s case. “For the first time in 23 years, we are not fighting the State anymore,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “They’ve joined us in this motion,” she wrote. “It’s not unheard of but is rare. It happens usually when the State believes the defendant may in fact be innocent.”
“Serial” debuted in 2014, featuring as its host Sarah Koenig, a former producer with the weekly public radio program “This American Life.” Its first season focused on whether Syed had received a fair trial. It was downloaded more than 100 million times and won a Peabody Award, turning the case into a topic of a national conversation. For many listeners, “Serial” raised doubts about Syed’s guilt.
In February 2016, Syed’s lawyers argued in post-conviction hearings that his original defense lawyer, Maria Cristina Gutierrez, who died in 2004, failed to contact an alibi witness, Asia McClain, who said she saw Syed at a library at the time prosecutors say he strangled Lee in 1999. They also presented new evidence, including testimony from the alibi witness.
Syed was granted a retrial in June 2016 by Judge Martin P. Welch of the Baltimore City Circuit Court, but in 2019, the Maryland Court of Appeals denied Syed a new trial in a 4-3 ruling, even though it agreed his trial lawyer’s work was lacking. The state high court said there was little chance the outcome would have been different had Gutierrez done what she should have.