Timeline of the murder of Hae Min Lee and legal battle of Adnan Syed

Syed’s sudden release marks just the latest twist in a case that has rumbled on for more than two decades

Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 28 March 2023 19:56 BST
Adnan Syed walks out of courthouse after request to vacate 2000 murder conviction granted by judge

An appellate court in Maryland has reinstated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed just six months after he finally walked free from two decades in prison for the murder of his former girlfriend.

In September last year, ​​Baltimore City Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn threw out the 41-year-old’s conviction and granted him a new trial, ordering his release after spending the last 23 years behind bars.

Minutes later, Syed, who was 17 when he was accused of killing Hae Min Lee, was met with loud cheers as he walked out of the courthouse.

The move came at the request of prosecutors who filed a motion on Wednesday saying that “the state no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction” because of questions around the reliability of cellphone tower data and the discovery of new information about two alternate unnamed suspects.

But on Tuesday, the appellate court ruled that the lower court had violated the right of Young Lee, the brother of Hae Min Lee, by not giving him enough notice to attend that critical September hearing.

The Maryland court ordered a do-over of the hearing in which Syed’s conviction was overturned and noted that its ruling “results in the reinstatement of the original convictions and sentence.”

The reinstatement marks just the latest twist in a legal battle that has rumbled on for more than two decades – and during which he has always maintained his innocence.

Adnan Syed flashes peace sign as he walks out of court on Monday

Here’s a timeline of the case so far:

13 January 1999 – Lee, 18, vanishes without a trace after leaving Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland.

February 1999 – Lee’s body is found around one month on from her disappearance buried in a shallow grave in Leakin Park in Baltimore. She had been strangled.

Syed, who was 17 at the time, was arrested and charged with her murder.

2000 – Syed is convicted of murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment and sentenced to life in prison.

His conviction relied heavily on testimony from his friend Jay Wilds, who claimed that Syed confessed to killing Lee and enlisted his help in digging a hole to bury her body in the park.

Wilds said that he went along with it because Syed threatened to tell the police that he was running a drug operation, which he feared would land him with hefty jail time.

Cellphone records were also used at the trial to place Syed at the crime scene.

2014Serial podcast is released, drawing global attention to the case and raising doubts about Syed’s conviction.

February 2015 – A court in Maryland agrees to hear an appeal of Syed’s conviction.

November 2015 – Syed is granted a new hearing, allowing his defence to bring forward new evidence in the case.

June 2016 – Syed is granted a new trial after his attorneys argued that Syed’s original trial lawyer, who later died, was grossly negligent. The defence had also presented new testimony from witness Asia McClane who said that she saw Syed in the public library at the time he is accused of killing Lee.

Syed’s request to be released on bail is denied and he is ordered to continue to be held behind bars.

The state files an appeal against the ruling.

2018 – An appeals court sides with Syed once again – upholding the decision to grant him a new trial and vacating his conviction.

Syed also turns down a plea deal, as it would require him to plead guilty to Lee’s murder.

2019 – Maryland’s highest court reverses the lower court’s ruling, denying Syed a new trial and reinstating his conviction.

November 2019 – The US Supreme Court declines a request to hear Syed’s case.

March 2022 – Syed’s defence team and state prosecutors file a joint request for new DNA testing to be carried out in the case.

The motion calls for Lee’s clothing to be tested for touch DNA. Back at the original trial, this type of DNA testing was not available.

14 September 2022 – Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby asks a judge to overturn Syed’s conviction and release him from prison.

Ms Mosby says that “the state no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction” based on doubts about the validity of cellphone records used in his original trial as well as new information about the possible involvement of two unnamed suspects.

19 September 2022 – Baltimore City Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn overturns Syed’s conviction and orders him to be given a new trial, saying it is “in the interest of justice”.

Syed was released on home detention after more than 23 years behind bars.

28 March 2023 - An appellate court panel reinstated Syed’s murder conviction, ruling that a lower court had violated the right of Young Lee, the brother of Hae Min Lee, by not giving him enough notice to attend a critical hearing in the case.

The Maryland court ordered a do-over of the hearing in which Syed’s conviction was overturned and noted that its ruling “results in the reinstatement of the original convictions and sentence.”

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