Adnan Syed, whose 2000 murder conviction became a media sensation thanks to the Serial podcast, has been freed after 23 years. Per The Baltimore Sun, a circuit judge overturned the sentence “after prosecutors raised doubts about his guilty finding because of the revelation of alternative suspects in the homicide and unreliable evidence used against him at trial.” Syed, 41, has been placed on home detention as the office of the Baltimore State Attorney deliberates on whether to push for a retrial or drop the charges entirely.
Earlier in September a New York Times report revealed prosecutors had requested Syed’s conviction be overturned due to the emergence of a pair of possible other suspects. Though stopping short of declaring Syed innocent, they said “at a minimum,” he should receive a new trial.
Throughout his lengthy prison stint, Syed continually stated that he was innocent of the murder of high school classmate and ex-girlfirend Hae Min Lee, who was found dead in a Baltimore park in 1999. In the wake of Adnan’s release, Serial put out a new episode titled “Adnan is out.”
Created and hosted by journalist Sarah Koenig, Serial became a cultural phenomenon in 2014, with its first season devoted to Lee’s death and Syed’s trial. Syed was tried twice, with the first ending in a mistrial and the second rendering a guilty verdict. In 2019, Maryland’s Court of Appeals denied a petition for a new trial by a 4-3 margin, even after an appeals court vacated the conviction in 2018. The new suspects offer compelling alternatives: one allegedly threatened Lee, saying he would “make her disappear,” according to prosecutors. They also describe one suspect as “a serial rapist,” who has been convicted in several sexual assaults following Syed’s trial. Lee’s car was also discovered near the home of one of the suspects.
In the new episode, Koenig recaps what happened when Syed was released, noting that he did not speak publicly when he left the prison, but that there was a crowd gathered that cheered as he left the premises. According to Koenig, the prosecution said that their case did not hold up upon internal review. There was also a new law in Maryland called the Juvenile Restoration Act, which allows people who have served 20-plus years for a crime committed as a juvenile to have their sentence truncated. Syed’s lawyer submitted one of these motions. Upon reviewing the case, they found notes that led them to reconsider two potential suspects who, as Koenig puts it, were “not properly ruled out as suspects.”
In recent years, investigative podcasts like Serial have worked to get high-profile cases overturned. In the Dark helped get a murder conviction and death sentence reversed for Mississippi man Curtis Flowers. The show Undisclosed investigated wrongful convictions in the United States, and devoted several episodes to Syed’s case, as well as those of people like Jamar Huggins and Joey Watkins.