A new Serial podcast episode is now available, almost eight years after the 2014 series investigated the conviction of Adnan Syed for the alleged murder of his former girlfriend. That conviction has now been overturned, after prosecutors and judge alike said that it was unsafe.
Serial became the most popular podcast in the world, with more than 340 million downloads – still a record today …
The original case
Eighteen-year-old Hae Min Lee disappeared on January 13, 1999. Her partially buried body was discovered on February 9.
Baltimore City Police received an anonymous tip suggesting that her classmate and former boyfriend Adnan Syed was responsible for her kidnap and murder. A friend of Syed subsequently claimed that he had helped the suspect bury the body.
A key piece of evidence presented by prosecutors was triangulated cellphone data (not GPS), which they claimed placed Syed’s phone at the scene – data which was later shown to be unreliable.
The first trial took place in December 1999, but ended in a mistrial after jurors overheard an exchange between the judge and defense attorney Cristina Gutierrez. A second trial began in January, and on February 25, 2000, Syed was convicted of first degree murder, as well as kidnapping, false imprisonment, and robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.
Syed first appealed in 2003, which was rejected. A second appeal was filed in 2010, on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel. His lawyer had failed to investigate an alibi witness who placed Syed miles from the scene at the time of the murder. That appeal was denied in 2014.
The following year, an appeal was granted based on the alibi presented by Asia McClain. Syed’s new lawyer also presented evidence that the triangulation data for the cellphone was misleading. In 2016, the judge vacated Syed’s conviction, and ordered a new trial. However, the prosecution appealed the decision, and in 2019 the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed the ruling. The defense again appealed, and in 2019 the Supreme Court of the United States rejected Syed’s appeal for a new trial.
In 2014, the creators of This American Life began an investigation into the case for a podcast series called Serial. Unusually, they didn’t wait until that work was complete, and a conclusion reached; instead they presented the unfolding story of the investigation, week by week.
It was compelling listening, and by the final episode (as was), a persuasive case had been made for the innocence of Syed.
While appeals had been rejected, the publicity created by the podcast put pressure on police and prosecutors to reexamine the evidence in the case.
Following a year-long case review, prosecutors asked a court to vacate the conviction, as they no longer had confidence in the reliability of the evidence. They added that the original prosecutors had failed to hand over to the defence evidence that the cellphone tower data gave a misleading impression of the location of Syed’s phone, which they were required to do by law.
The judge agreed, and the conviction has now been quashed.
The prosecutors said that the case review had revealed two new suspects, as BBC News reports.
Prosecutors said they lacked “confidence in the integrity of the conviction” and had identified two new potential suspects who were known to police since the 1999 murder.
Neither suspect has been named, but officials said both had documented records of violence towards women, including convictions that occurred after Syed’s trial. One suspect was cleared from the investigation into Lee’s death after failing a lie-detector test, a method no longer admissible in many US courts.
“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.
Syed will still face a new trial, but reading between the lines, it appears that police are now convinced they know who really did murder Hae Min Lee, and that Syed will later be exonerated.
New ‘Serial’ podcast episode
The producers of Serial have now released a new episode – episode 13 – presenting the story behind the case review. The episode is entitled “Now We Know,” and promises to reveal who killed Hae Min Lee.
It’s Baltimore, 2022. Adnan Syed has spent the last 23 years incarcerated, serving a life sentence for the murder of Hae Min Lee, a crime he says he didn’t commit. He has exhausted every legal avenue for relief, including a petition to the United States Supreme Court. But then, a prosecutor in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s office stumbled upon two handwritten notes in Adnan’s case file, and that changed everything.
Who killed Hae Min Lee? Listen to find out.
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