A US prosecutor on Wednesday asked a judge to overturn the conviction of a man who served more than 20 years in prison for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend – a case that has drawn worldwide attention thanks to the hit podcast “Serial”.
Adnan Syed, 42, has been serving a life sentence since 2000 for the murder of Hae Min Lee, whose body was found buried in February 1999 in a shallow grave in the woods of Baltimore, Maryland.
Lee, 18, had been strangled.
Syed has firmly maintained his innocence but his multiple appeals have been dismissed, including by the United States Supreme Court which in 2019 refused to hear his case.
In a surprise ruling on Wednesday, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that she had asked a judge to overturn Syed’s conviction.
Syed is expected to be freed while prosecutors conduct an investigation to determine whether he should be given a new trial or if the charges should be dropped, Mosby said in a statement.
The decision was prompted by the discovery of “undisclosed and newly developed information regarding two alternate suspects, as well as unreliable cellphone tower data,” she said.
“Syed deserves a new trial where he is adequately represented and where the final evidence can be presented,” she added.
The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office said it “is not asserting, at this time, that Mr. Syed is innocent”, but that it “lacks confidence in the integrity of the conviction”.
Syed’s case drew attention when it was picked up by ‘Serial’, a weekly podcast which saw an American journalist backtrack on his conviction and cast doubt on his guilt.
His case was also the subject of a four-part HBO documentary called “The Case Against Adnan Syed”.
The “Serial” podcast – a mix of investigative journalism, first-person narration and dramatic storytelling – focused its first season on Syed’s story in 12 biting episodes.
Both Syed and Lee were honored high school students and children of immigrant families — he Pakistani, she South Korean — who hid their relationship from their conservative parents.
Prosecutors said during the trial that Syed was a “despised lover” who felt humiliated after Lee broke up with him.
Mosby’s office said the reinvestigation into the case “unveiled evidence regarding the possible involvement of two alternate suspects” that was “not properly excluded or disclosed to the defense.”
Doubts have also been raised about the accuracy of the cellphone data records that were used to determine Syed’s whereabouts on the day of the murder, he added.