Adnan Syed, who had charges dropped against him in October after he spent more than 20 years in prison for the murder of his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, will remain out of prison despite his conviction being reinstated.
A Maryland appellate court, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that a lower court had violated the victim’s family’s right to attend a critical hearing about vacating Syed’s conviction, The Washington Post reported. The appellate court ordered the hearing be held again, which “results in the reinstatement of the original convictions and sentence,” the court wrote.
But that doesn’t mean that Syed must return to prison since the court ordered a 60-day stay on the order, which “gives the parties time to assess how to proceed in response to this Court’s decision.”
Syed’s attorney, Erica Suter, said in a statement obtained by People Magazine that the appellate court’s decision “was not about Adnan’s innocence but about notice and mootness.”
“The Appellate Court of Maryland has reinstated Adnan’s convictions, not because the Motion to Vacate was erroneous, but because Ms. Lee’s brother did not appear in person at the vacatur hearing,” Suter said. “We agree with the dissenting judge that the appeal is moot and that Mr. Lee’s attendance over Zoom was sufficient.”
“There is no basis for re-traumatizing Adnan by returning him to the status of a convicted felon,” Suter said. “For the time being, Adnan remains a free man.”
The ruling comes after Young Lee, the victim’s brother, argued that he and his family weren’t properly notified of the September 19, 2022, hearing that resulted in Syed’s release, and only received an email about the hearing three days before it took place. Young Lee told NBC News that he was not able to travel to Maryland on such short notice, as he lived and worked in California. In February, the Lee family asked an appellate court to reinstate the murder conviction against Syed.
“We respect and we honor the fact that Hae’s family suffers so much, and we just wished that they could get the answers that they can have,” Syed told the outlet. “We just hope that the court also recognizes that our family suffers, too.”
Suter also stated at the time that Lee’s family didn’t have the right to play any kind of active role in the hearing that led to Syed’s release.
“What the victim has is a right of information and a right to not be caught off-guard as to what is happening,” Suter told judges. “This is not an environment in which their impact should be influencing the court’s decision.”
Baltimore City Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn decided to overturn Syed’s murder conviction in September after the popular “Serial” podcast raised doubts about his guilt. Prosecutors had revealed there were other suspects, as well as concerns about the evidence used against him. A year-long investigation involving prosecutors and Suter, Syed’s attorney, discovered that authorities knew of at least one alternate suspect prior to Syed’s trial but withheld the information from his defense. This, the prosecutors and Suter argued, was known as a Brady violation.
Hae Min Lee was 18 years old when she was found strangled to death and buried in Leakin Park near Baltimore, Maryland. Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend who was 17 at the time of her killing, was alleged to have argued with her in a car before strangling her to death. Prosecutors alleged Syed committed the murder because he couldn’t handle Lee breaking up with him.