A US prosecutor asked a judge on Wednesday to vacate the conviction of a man who has served over 20 years in prison for his ex-girlfriend’s 1999 murder — a case that received worldwide attention thanks to the hit podcast “Serial.”
Adnan Syed, 42, has been serving a life sentence since 2000 for the murder of Hae Min Lee, whose body was found buried in February 1999 in a shallow grave in the woods of Baltimore, Maryland.
The 18-year-old Lee had been strangled.
Syed has steadfastly maintained his innocence but his multiple appeals have been denied, including by the US Supreme Court which declined in 2019 to hear his case.
In a surprise move on Wednesday, the Baltimore City state’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, announced that she had asked a judge to vacate Syed’s conviction.
Syed should be released while prosecutors conduct an investigation to determine whether he should be granted a new trial or whether the charges should be dropped, Mosby said in a statement.
The move was prompted by the discovery of “undisclosed and newly-developed information regarding two alternative suspects, as well as unreliable cell phone tower data,” she said.
“Syed deserves a new trial where he is adequately represented and the latest evidence can be presented,” she added.
The Baltimore City state’s attorney’s office said they are “not asserting, at this time, that Mr Syed is innocent” but it “lacks confidence in the integrity of the conviction.”
Syed’s case earned attention when it was taken up by “Serial,” a weekly podcast that saw a US journalist revisit his conviction and cast doubt on his guilt.
His case has also been the subject of a four-part documentary on the HBO channel called “The Case Against Adnan Syed.”
The “Serial” podcast — a mix of investigative journalism, first-person narrative and dramatic storytelling — focused its first season on Syed’s story in 12 nail-biting episodes.
Both Syed and Lee were high school honour students and children from immigrant families — he Pakistani, she South Korean — who had concealed their relationship from their conservative parents.
Prosecutors said during the trial that Syed was a “scorned lover” who felt humiliated after Lee broke up with him.
Mosby’s office said re-investigation of the case has “revealed evidence regarding the possible involvement of two alternative suspects” who were “not properly ruled out nor disclosed to the defence.”
Doubt has also been cast on the accuracy of cell phone data records that were used to determine Syed’s whereabouts on the day of the murder, it added.