If you listened to the first season of the podcast Serial — and since the first season of the show was downloaded hundreds of millions of times, odds are you have — you are very familiar with the murder of high school student Hae Min Lee, and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for the crime. The show’s first season systematically explored the evidence against Syed, as well as the holes in the case against him. It sparked enormous interest in Syed’s case, and helped inspire a series of television shows about it, including HBO’s four-part documentary The Case Against Adnan Syed, which updated viewers on Syed’s appeals of his conviction.
Through all of the attention, Syed fought for a new trial. The case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court, but in 2019 they rejected Syed’s appeal. But earlier this month, prosecutors in Baltimore sought to vacate Syed’ conviction, because they claimed they “no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction” amidst new evidence that suggested two other “alternative suspects” could have committed Lee’s murder amidst “significant reliability issues regarding the most critical pieces of evidence” used against Syed, namely GPS data taken from his cellphone, which was the subject of much scrutiny on the Serial podcast.
Today, on the basis of that motion, a judge ordered Adnan Syed’s release from prison. He’s to be detained in his home for 30 days while prosecutors decide whether or not he should be retried. Syed had been imprisoned since he was a teenager; he’s now 41 years old.
In the state’s motion to overturn his conviction, prosecutors wrote not that they believed Syed was innocent, but that they no longer had faith in the integrity of his conviction. ‘It is in the interests of justice and fairness that these convictions be vacated and that the defendant, at a minimum, be afforded a new trial,’ wrote Becky Feldman, chief of the State’s Attorney’s Office’s Sentencing Review Unit.
Prosecutors did not reveal the identities of the alternative suspects but “described one of the suspects as a serial rapist, saying the suspect was convicted in a series of sexual assaults after Syed’s trial.” They also noted that “police discovered Lee’s car near the residence of one of the suspects.”
It’s a stunning turn of events, particularly after Serial’s initial release failed to help Syed gain an appeal, despite multiple attempts. But now, at least for the moment, he’s been released.