You may have heard about the case of Adnon Syed, which was popularized by the 2014 “Serial” podcast. Syed was convicted of killing his high school sweetheart, Hae Min Lee, and has been incarcerated for the past 23 years. The podcast analyzed the case through many interviews, including with Syed himself.
Last year, the Juvenile Restoration Act was passed and says if you’ve served at least 20 years of your sentence of a crime that you committed as a minor, you can ask a judge to reduce or eliminate your sentence. Syed was only 17 when he was arrested. This case is unique, in that prosecutors in Baltimore recently asked a judge to vacate Syed’s sentence, due to a number of mistakes made during the investigation which led to the conviction. Days later, Syed was released to house arrest, until the state decides whether it wants to pursue a new trial.
Prosecutors have not exonerated Syed. Rather, prosecutors are admitting that, in 1999, the authorities did not investigate the case thoroughly, and relied on evidence that they should not have. By way of example, the prosecution’s star witness, Jay Wildes, changed his testimony repeatedly. Although it was believed that cell phone records backed up his story, it was subsequently discovered that the cell phone tower evidence was faulty and unreliable.
In addition, some new evidence was uncovered. Handwritten notes were discovered in the case file, which the defense had never seen before. The notes contained information about other possible suspects. In addition, a person that the state had overlooked as a possible suspect, who had a motive to kill Hae Min Lee, was not properly cleared. Allegedly, that individual was upset with the victim, and said that he would “make her disappear” and “kill her”.
Not sharing this evidence, which was originally discovered prior to Syed’s trial, is known as a “Brady violation.” Syed’s lawyers were never informed of this particular evidence, or of the additional potential suspects. These discovered items could have constituted enough evidence to vacate the sentence.
Adnon Syed was released on September 19, 2022. The state has 30 days to decide if they will seek another trial against Syed. Most experts believe that a new trial is unlikely.
What do you think about this case? Was the vacation of the sentence warranted? Do you think the justice system failed a 17-yr-old boy?
Scott Bonebrake practices law in Media, PA, and has been a licensed attorney for 27 years. Please feel free to contact Scott if you have any legal questions. You can reach Scott at 610-892-7700, or at email@example.com.