US court reinstates ‘Serial’ podcast subject Adnan Syed’s murder conviction and orders new hearing

MARYLAND – A Maryland appeals court on Tuesday reinstated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, the subject of the “Serial” podcast who was freed last year after he had spent 23 years fighting charges that he had killed his former high school girlfriend.

The Appellate Court of Maryland ruled that a lower court had violated the right of Mr Young Lee, brother of Ms Hae Min Lee, the victim, to have been notified of and to attend a hearing on the state’s motion to vacate Syed’s conviction.

The appeals court ordered a new hearing on the state’s motion to vacate Syed’s conviction. The court 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”.

“We can do that, and accordingly, we vacate the circuit court’s order vacating Mr Syed’s convictions, which results in the reinstatement of the original convictions and sentence,” the decision said.

“We remand for a new, legally compliant, and transparent hearing on the motion to vacate, where Mr Lee is given notice of the hearing that is sufficient to allow him to attend in person, evidence supporting the motion to vacate is presented, and the court states its reasons in support of its decision.”

It was not immediately clear if the decision meant that Syed would have to return to prison.

Syed was freed in September after Judge Melissa M. Phinn of Baltimore City Circuit Court vacated his conviction “in the interests of justice and fairness”, finding that prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence that could have helped Syed at trial and discovered new evidence that could have affected the outcome of his case.

Syed had been serving a life sentence after he was convicted of strangling his high school classmate and onetime girlfriend Hae Min Lee, whose body was found buried in a park in Baltimore in 1999.

Ms Lee’s family had expressed concern that prosecutors had not given them adequate notice about the move to vacate the conviction. During a hearing last year, Mr Steve Kelly, the family’s lawyer, had asked Judge Phinn to postpone a decision on the motion.

But Judge Phinn rejected the request and Mr Young Lee joined the hearing on Zoom after Mr Kelly called him at work.

“This is not a podcast for me,” Mr Lee had said, voice wavering, when he addressed the court. “This is real life – a never-ending nightmare for 20-plus years.” NYTIMES

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