United States: a man at the heart of the Serial podcast released after 23 years in prison

A team of journalists had conducted a counter-investigation, told in a successful podcast, and had shown the neglect of a lead in this murder case.

An American judge on Monday overturned the conviction of a man detained for 23 years for a murder he has always denied, a file at the heart of the worldwide hit podcast “Serial”.

Adnan Syed, 42, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2000 for the murder of his former girlfriend Hae Min Lee in Baltimore, on the east coast of the United States.

In an unexpected turnaround, the city’s prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, filed a motion last week to have the verdict set aside, explaining that she had doubts about Adnan Syed’s guilt, and asked for his release.

“Two alternate suspects”

Marilyn Mosby explained that she had discovered the existence of “two alternative suspects”, crucial information that was poorly exploited at the time and which above all had not been communicated to the defense before the trial. This Monday, a magistrate therefore validated the prosecutor’s request, during a hearing in a crowded room in a Baltimore court.

“In the interest of justice and fairness, the motion is granted and the defendant will be released” and fitted with an electronic bracelet, said Melissa Phinn.

Agents then removed Adnan Syed’s shackles, while part of the room applauded before being called to order. The full beard, and the head covered with a cap, he showed no reaction.

He always maintained his innocence

Just before this hearing, Hae Min Lee’s brother confided, via teleconference, “living a nightmare that never ends” and said he felt “cheated” by prosecutors who for years argued that they had the right culprit. , before finally changing his mind.

It is now up to prosecutors to say, within the next 30 days, whether they want to organize a new trial or drop all charges against Adnan Syed.

The case began in February 1999, when police found the body of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee half-buried in a Baltimore woods. Arrested at the age of 17, Adnan Syed was sentenced to life imprisonment a year later. According to the prosecution, he had not supported that she left him for another and had strangled her. He has always claimed his innocence, claiming to be the victim of anti-Muslim prejudice.

A journalistic counter-investigation

In 2014, a team of journalists conducted a counter-investigation, told in twelve episodes in the first season of “Serial”. A precursor to the era of podcasts, this radio soap opera has, according to its producers, been downloaded more than 300 million times. It also inspired an HBO documentary.

The investigation by Serial journalists had shown that Adnan Syed’s lawyer had neglected a mobile telephone expertise favorable to the accused, as well as the testimony of a young girl who offered him a potential alibi. Their work led to a reopening of the case and, in March 2018, a Maryland appeals court ordered a new trial, finding that the lawyer had provided “ineffective assistance” to her client.

In March 2019, the Supreme Court of Maryland had recognized that the lawyer had been wrong not to present certain elements, but had estimated that “given the totality of the evidence”, the verdict would not have been different if she included them. She had therefore refused the organization of a new trial.

Adnan Syed’s defense then turned to the Supreme Court. In 2019, she refused to intervene, which seemed to put an end to her hopes of release. But the Baltimore prosecutor reopened the case again, ultimately causing this latest judicial reversal.

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