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Adnan Syed’s murder conviction in ‘Serial’ case reinstated; new hearing ordered

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A Maryland appellate court on Tuesday reinstated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, the subject of the hit podcast “Serial” in 2014, and ordered a new hearing.

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In a 2-1 decision, the panel of three judges ruled that a lower court had violated the right of the victim’s family to attend a crucial hearing in the case, The Washington Post reported.

Syed was freed last year after he spent 23 years fighting charges that he had killed his former high school girlfriend, according to The New York Times.

The court ordered a new hearing on the state’s motion to vacate Syed’s conviction, the newspaper reported. The panel wrote that it “has the power and obligation to remedy those violations, as long we can do so without violating Mr. Syed’s right to be free from double jeopardy.”

It was not immediately clear if the decision meant that Syed would have to return to prison, according to the Times. The Associated Press reported that Syed would not immediately be taken back into custody.

Syed was 17 when he was arrested in February 1999 for the killing of Hae Min Lee, the Post reported. He was convicted of murder in 2000 and received a sentence of life in prison.

Syed and his representatives spent the next two decades attempting to overturn the conviction. The NPR podcast “Serial” cast doubt on Syed’s guilt, along with the 2019 miniseries, “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” according to Variety.

In September, Syed was set free after Judge Melissa M. Phinn of Baltimore City Circuit Court vacated his conviction “in the interests of justice and fairness,” the Times reported. The judge ruled that prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence that could have helped Syed at his trial and discovered new evidence that could have affected the outcome of his case, according to the newspaper.

Family member Young Lee had argued that the Baltimore City state’s attorney gave him less than one business day’s notice of the hearing at which Syed’s conviction was vacated, the Post reported. He added that prosecutors did not provide enough detail for him to understand why that was happening.

The appellate court panel said the “mandate” of its decision on Tuesday would be delayed for 60 days, the Post reported. That will allow both parties “time to assess how to proceed in response to this Court’s decision.”

The appellate panel’s decision was written by Judge Kathryn Grill Graeff and joined by Chief Judge E. Gregory Wells, according to the newspaper. Judge Stuart R. Berger dissented, noting that Young Lee was able to attend the hearing at which Syed’s conviction was vacated “via electronic means.”

In a statement released by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, Erica J. Suter, who has been counsel for Syed, said she agreed with the dissenting judge.

“It took over two decades for prosecutors to finally acknowledge what Adnan Syed and his loved ones have been saying since day one: he did not murder Hae Min Lee. The appeal was not about Adnan’s innocence but about notice and mootness,” Suter said. “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.  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. For the time being, Adnan remains a free man.”

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