The brother of murder victim Hae Min Lee, 18, on Wednesday filed a notice of appeal after a court vacated the 2000 conviction of the man prosecutors long argued was responsible for the killing.
Lee’s classmate and former boyfriend Adnan Syed, who is now 41 but who was 17 when the killing occurred, became famous when the podcast Serial proffered weaknesses in the state’s case and in the thoroughness of the defense. Myriad appeals ended when prosecutors agreed Syed should be released from prison last week.
The experience has been a bitter one for Lee’s family, especially when prosecutors partially conceded the case against Syed in a Sept. 19 hearing. The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office got a 30-day deadline to decide whether to retry or drop the case.
“Whenever I think it’s over, and it’s ended, it always comes back,” brother Young Lee said over Zoom at the Sept. 19 hearing, according to The New York Times. “It’s killing me and killing my mother.”
Lee’s attorney on Wednesday filed the aforementioned notice with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. The document cites Maryland Code of Criminal Procedure § 11-103(b), which states, in part, that a crime victim who is not an immediate party to a criminal proceeding can ask an appellate court to review any “final order that denies or fails to consider a right secured to the victim.”
“Young Lee filed the attached notice of appeal based on violations of his family’s right to meaningfully participate in the September 19, 2022 hearing on the motion to vacate Adnan Syed’s conviction,” attorney Steven Kelly told CNN in an email. “The notice of appeal is the first step in seeking the Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ review of the potential violations of Maryland’s victim’s rights statutes in connection with the hearing.”
Lee reportedly filed a motion on the day of the hearing on Sept. 19, but Associate Judge Melissa Phinn denied it. Lee said he he did not have enough notice to exercise his right to be present for the hearing.
The family of Hae Min Lee said Wednesday that they intend to file an appeal to reverse the judge’s ruling that released Adnan Syed from prison.https://t.co/NH2r19x09o
— FOX Baltimore (@FOXBaltimore) September 29, 2022
Hae Min Lee had been strangled to death and buried in Baltimore’s Leakin Park in February 1999.
Syed has long insisted that he is innocent, and Serial revealed the existence of an alleged alibi witness who had been willing to testify for the defense. The 2014 podcast also raised questions about Syed’s defense attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, who had not contacted the potential witness. Gutierrez was disbarred in 2001 following complaints from clients over her representation of them and allegations of missing trust account funds. Gutierrez died in 2004.
“This is not a podcast for me,” Lee said on Sept. 19, according to the Times. “This is real life — a never-ending nightmare for 20-plus years.”
Syed’s lawyer, Erica J. Suter, brought the case before Phinn under a new Maryland law that allows people convicted of crimes as juveniles to ask that their sentences be modified after they have served 20 years in prison, the Times reported.
“After a nearly year-long investigation by the State and defense . . . the parties have uncovered Brady violations and new information, all concerning the possible involvement of two alternative suspects,” the prosecution’s previous filing said, referring to potentially exculpatory material that prosecutors are required to provide to defendants in criminal cases under Brady v. Maryland. “Additionally, the parties have identified significant reliability issues regarding the most critical pieces of evidence at trial.”
Prosecutors maintained during the Sept. 19 hearing that the case had issues, but they did not explicitly say that Syed was factually innocent.
“To be clear, the State is not asserting at this time that Defendant is innocent,” the state’s motion said, noting that the investigation into Lee’s killing is ongoing. “However, for all the reasons set forth below, the State no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction.”
Young Lee, however, reportedly said he felt “betrayed” and “blindsided” by the decision to vacate Syed’s conviction.
Additional DNA testing is apparently ongoing, and the results thereof will apparently dictate the remaining trajectory of the case.
“If that DNA comes back inconclusive, I will certify that he’s innocent,” Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said, according to Baltimore CBS affiliate WJZ. “If it comes back to two alternative suspects, I will certify that he’s innocent. If it comes back to Adnan Syed, the state is still in a position to proceed upon the prosecution.”
State’s Atty Mosby says “if the DNA comes back inconclusive, I will certify [Adnan Syed] is innocent, if it comes back to two alternative suspects, I will certify that he’s innocent” She talks about being in court yesterday and seeeing the case come “full circle” @wjz #AdnanSyed pic.twitter.com/zPbdeH6r6j
— Mike Hellgren (@HellgrenWJZ) September 20, 2022
Prosecutor Becky Feldman reportedly said she was able to access the original case file from the state attorney general in June. Handwritten notes identified two other suspects, including a person who had apparently threatened to kill Lee. That evidence was never given to the defense, she said. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, however, said that is not true; he criticized the motion to vacate Syed’s conviction.
“Among the other serious problems with the motion to vacate, the allegations related to Brady violations are incorrect,” he said in a statement published Sept. 19. “Neither State’s Attorney Mosby nor anyone from her office bothered to consult with either the Assistant State’s Attorney who prosecuted the case or with anyone in my office regarding these alleged violations. The file in this case was made available on several occasions to the defense.”
Marisa Sarnoff contributed to this report.
[Screenshot via ABC/Good Morning America]
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