Hae Min Lee’s family wants Adnan Syed’s murder conviction reinstated

Hae Min Lee's family wants Adnan Syed's murder conviction reinstated

Lawyers for the family of Hae Min Lee — the Maryland teen whose 1999 slaying was profiled on the hit podcast “Serial” — asked appellate court judges this week to reinstate the murder conviction against the man previously identified as her killer.

Lee’s former boyfriend and high school classmate, Adnan Syed, 41, was released in September 2022 after serving over 20 years in prison on a murder conviction many argued was flawed. 

WBAL-TV reported that Syed was present at the Maryland Appellate Court Thursday morning when attorneys for Lee’s brother, Young Lee, demanded that his conviction be reinstated while they await a new hearing.

Young’s lawyers are appealing the decision to release Syed on the grounds that the victim’s family’s rights were violated when the state failed to give Young proper warning of the proceedings last fall, according to CNN.

A yearbook tribute to murder victim Hae Min Lee, featuring her school portrait.
Hae Min Lee was murdered in 1999.

Young, who appeared at the Sept. 19 hearing via Zoom from California, alleges that he did not know about the court date until he was alerted via email just three days earlier, WBAL-TV said.

Young was in court in-person on Thursday, but did not address the judges, CNN reported.

Attorneys for Young also argued that Baltimore prosecutors withheld evidence from the family when they dropped the charges against Syed following a review of DNA evidence.

Adnan Syed, a tall Pakistani-American man with a cap over his head and a beard. He is wearing a white button-down shirt and a dark tie.
Adnan Syed outside after he was released in September 2022.

“The victim, or victim’s representative … has a right to be heard,” David Sanford, one of the family’s representatives, told the three-judge panel.

Erica Suter, an attorney for Syed, countered that Lee’s family was given sufficient notice of the September court date and that victims’ relatives did not have a right to play an active role in such hearings.

Speaking to WBAL-TV following Thursday’s proceedings, University of Maryland Carey School of Law professor Doug Colbert expressed doubt that the Lee family’s request posed a serious threat to Syed’s newfound freedom.

Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed's junior prom photo.
Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed’s junior prom photo.

“The strongest likelihood is that this will not affect the charges to vacate the conviction that has been vacated, and there will not be any exposure to a reconviction of Adnan,” he told the outlet.

Colbert, who was Syed’s first lawyer during his bail hearing after the then-17-year-old’s 1999 arrest, posited that wrongfully convicted individuals have as much of a right to fair proceedings as victims do.

“Convicted people who were wrongfully convicted have very important rights to have a prosecutor exercise discretion to vacate an unfair and unjust conviction,” he said.

Hae Min Lee's mother cries into her sleeve as she is escorted from a crowd of people.
Hae Min Lee’s mother, Youn Kim, right, is escorted from her daughter’s March 1999 memorial service.
Tribune News Service via Getty I

Speaking to reporters outside the Maryland courthouse, Syed expressed his sympathies for Lee’s family but reminded the public that his loved ones also suffered during the two-decade saga.

“Our family, we’ve suffered so much, you know, just over the past 20, 24 years, and it’s just really hard for us,” he lamented.

“We definitely understand that Hae’s family is suffering so much, and they continue to suffer, and it’s just that we suffer, too. And, we just hope that the court today just takes notice of that, that we’re a family that suffers also … We just hope that the court also recognizes that our family suffers, too.”

Adnan Syed pushed his father in a wheelchair outside the Maryland court.
Adnan Syed leaves the Appellate Court of Maryland Thursday with his family.

In her address to reporters, Suter expressed hope that the appellate panel’s decision would reflect the lower court’s ruling.

“This court’s decision will neither bring back Hae Min Lee nor restore Adnan’s 23-and-a-half lost years,” she said, according to CNN.

“It’s time, it is 23 years past time to let Adnan Syed live as a free man. All of us, together, look forward to the court’s ruling.”

Adnan Syed while incarcerated, seen from behind bars between two corrections officers. Syed is dressed in a blue prison uniform and his hands are shackled.
Adnan Syed spent over 20 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit.

Thursday’s proceedings marked the latest update in the tragic plot that began when Hae Min Lee’s partially buried remains were discovered in Baltimore’s Leakin Park on Feb. 9, 1999 — less than one month after she disappeared after school. 

Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend and classmate at Woodlawn High School, was arrested for her murder on Feb. 28; one year later, the then-18-year-old was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.

Syed maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison, and the minutiae of the case against him was unpacked in the runaway hit podcast “Serial” in 2014.

A school portrait of Hae Min Lee.
After Syed’s release, no one has been identified as a suspect in Hae Min Lee’s killing.

But while Syed’s professed innocence subsequently became a pop cultural cause célèbre, Lee’s family maintained that he was responsible for her death.

“If the wrong person has been behind bars for 23 years, the Lee family and the rest of the world want to understand what new evidence has led to that conclusion,” Lee family lawyer Steve Kelly told The Post last October, as Young and Lee’s other relatives grappled with Syed’s release.

“The Lee family deserves at least that much.”

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