In 1999, Adnan Syed was given life for murdering Hae Min Lee. New DNA evidence has cleared him.

Adnan Syed is in no doubt a name that has infiltrated your news feed lately. 

Some may remember his name, others may not. If you are in the latter category, allow me to bring you up to speed. 

It's 1999 in the US city of Baltimore. 

18-year-old school student Hae Min Lee is dating her schoolmate, Adnan Syed.

And then she goes missing. 

Tragically, Lee was later found – buried in a park. She had been killed by strangulation. 

And in 2000, Syed was convicted for her murder. 

He was also found guilty of robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment too. 

Syed was sentenced to life imprisonment. 

The case of Adnan Syed. Article continues after video.

Video via USA Today.

But then, 14 years later, the case was thrust back into the spotlight when it became the focus of the inaugural season of true-crime podcast, Serial. For over a year, journalist Sarah Koenig pored herself over the facts of the case, digging deeper into the evidence presented by prosecutors. She shared her findings in a 12-episode podcast which renewed attention and raised doubts over Syed's guilt.


Serial's first season earned Koenig a Peabody Award – and set a precedent for popularising true-crime in pod format.  

Syed had always maintained his innocence. In 2015, an appeal was launched, and a new trial was granted in the following year, but a higher court blocked it from going ahead. 

At that time, lawyer and activist Rabia Chaudry wrote in The Guardian: “Adnan is my younger brother’s best friend and like a brother to me as well. From the day he was taken from his bed in the pre-dawn hours of 26 February 1999 until today, he has maintained his innocence and I, and my family, have believed him.”

“Every piece of forensic evidence collected pointed to Adnan’s innocence. From the hairs found on Lee’s body, which did not match Adnan, to the dozens of soil samples taken from his clothing, shoes, car and room, which returned negative results for matching soil from Leakin Park.”

And then, last month came another twist. 

Following a new joint investigation by the State's Attorney for Baltimore City, Syed's defence team and the University of Baltimore's Innocence Project, prosecutors filed a motion asking for the conviction to be vacated. 

The investigation "revealed undisclosed and newly developed information regarding two alternative suspects, as well as unreliable cell phone tower data," said State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office in a news release. 

Further, the investigation uncovered unreliable witness testimony and a potentially biased detective.

While the State had not declared Syed's innocence, it "no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction".


Then, three weeks ago, after two decades behind bars, Judge Melissa Phinn vacated the conviction of Syed, now 41.

Judge Phinn ruled the state had violated its legal obligation to share exculpatory evidence (that is, evidence that is used to support the innocence of a defendant on trial) with Syed's defence. 

And just like that... 

"All right, Mr Syed, you're free to go," Judge Phinn uttered.

He did, emerging from the courthouse with a smile amidst a throng of supporters and media, before being whisked away in a SUV.

Syed's lawyer Erica Suter said he "couldn't believe it was real".

After the conviction was vacated, Syed's movements continued to be monitored and the results of DNA analysis were left pending. Baltimore State's Attorney's Office had 30 days to decide whether to bring forward another trial or drop the murder charge altogether.  

Then came the decision. 

Today it was announced prosecutors have dropped all charges after DNA testing excluded Syed.

"Today's a day that Adnan Syed and his loved ones have been waiting for for 23 long years. The results of the DNA testing exclude Adnan and confirm what Adnan and his supporters have always known: Adnan Syed is innocent," Suter told reporters.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said the 41-year-old had been in prison for a "wrongful conviction."

"It is my responsibility to acknowledge and to apologise to the family of Hae Min Lee and to the family of Adnan Syed," she told reporters. "As the administrator of the criminal justice system, it's my duty to ensure that justice is not delayed. Justice is never denied, but justice be done. Today, justice is done."


Mosby said her office had reached out to the lawyer for Lee's family before releasing information publicly but did not get a response, the ABC reports.

"We offer our deepest sympathy to the family of Hae Min Lee and we join in the hopes that an investigation will bring them real answers and a sense of closure," said Suter, before requesting privacy for Syed, who did not appear at the press conference. 

During the trial, Lee's brother, Young Lee, told the court he felt "betrayed" and "blindsided" by the prosecutors, as the case was deemed to be settled. 

"It's killing me and killing my mother," he said.

"This is not a podcast for me. This is real life – a never-ending nightmare for 20-plus years." 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

This article was originally published on September 20, 2022, and was updated on October 12, 2022.

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram.

Feature Image: AAP/Mamamia.

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