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Victim's family to appeal against Adnan Syed’s release in ‘Serial’ case

The National logo The National 29/09/2022 The National

The family of a young woman murdered in 1999 will appeal against a Baltimore, Maryland, judge’s decision to overturn the conviction of Adnan Syed, the man jailed for decades for Hae Min Lee's death, their lawyer has said.

Mr Syed, whose case was examined in the popular true-crime podcast Serial, was released earlier this month after prosecutors told a judge they had uncovered doubts about the fairness of the investigation.

Mr Syed has always maintained that he never killed Lee, his ex-girlfriend.

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But on Wednesday, Young Lee, the victim's brother, filed a notice of appeal, alleging breaches of the family’s right to participate in the September 19 hearing in which Mr Syed secured his release, lawyer Steve Kelly said. It’s the first step in seeking the Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ review of potential breaches of the victim’s rights statutes, Mr Kelly said.

Mr Syed had been serving a life sentence after he was convicted of strangling Lee, whose body was found buried in a Baltimore park. He was 17 at the time of her death.

Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn's order to release Mr Syed came after State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby asked the judge to vacate his conviction, saying a lengthy investigation conducted with the defence had uncovered new evidence that could undermine the verdict.

During the hearing, Mr Lee spoke to the court via videoconference, saying he felt betrayed by prosecutors since he thought the case was settled.

“This is not a podcast for me. This is real life,” he said.

In 2019, HBO released a mini series called The Case Against Adnan Syed.

Prosecutor Becky Feldman told the judge in the hearing that she contacted Mr Lee before the motion was filed. A day before the hearing, Mr Lee indicated by text message that he would attend virtually, Ms Feldman said.

In 2019, HBO released a mini series called 'The Case Against Adnan Syed'. Photo: HBO Max © Provided by The National In 2019, HBO released a mini series called 'The Case Against Adnan Syed'. Photo: HBO Max

But that evening the Lee family hired Mr Kelly, who filed a motion to postpone the hearing for seven days so Young Lee could attend in person. Ms Phinn denied that motion, but paused the hearing by more than 30 minutes so that Mr Lee, who was at work, could join the call.

Mr Kelly said at the time that prosecutors shut the family out of the legal process, calling it “inexcusable” and a breach Maryland law.

“They want more than anybody to have the person who killed Hae Min Lee brought to justice,” Mr Kelly said.

“If that is not Mr Syed then they’re open to the possibility of anybody else who actually did it being prosecuted.”

Adnan Syed walks out the the Baltimore Circuit Court after a judge vacated his murder conviction in Baltimore, Maryland earlier this month. EPA © Provided by The National Adnan Syed walks out the the Baltimore Circuit Court after a judge vacated his murder conviction in Baltimore, Maryland earlier this month. EPA

The Office of the Public Defender declined on Thursday to comment on the notice of appeal. Mr Syed's case captured the attention of millions in 2014 when the debut season of Serial focused on Lee’s killing and raised doubts about some of the evidence prosecutors had used.

Ms Mosby, who entered office in 2015, applauded the judge's decision and said investigators were awaiting the results of “DNA analysis” before determining whether to seek a new trial date or throw out the case against Mr Syed and “certify his innocence”.

State's Attorney's Office spokeswoman Zy Richardson said in a statement that authorities empathised with Lee's family, “who believed they had resolution and are now being re-traumatised by the misdeeds of the prior prosecutors”, but had to ensure that the right person was held accountable, news outlets reported.

“We refuse to be distracted from this fundamental obligation and will never give up in our fight for the Lee family,” she said.

Mr Feldman, who led a unit re-examining cases in which juvenile defendants were given life sentences, found notes written by a predecessor describing two phone calls in which people gave them information before Syed’s trial about someone with a motive to harm Lee. That information wasn’t given to the defence at the time, according prosecutors, an omission that Ms Phinn said breached Mr Syed's rights.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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