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Serial case: Adnan Syed released, conviction tossed

BALTIMORE (AP) A Baltimore judge on Monday ordered the release of Adnan Syed after overturning Syeds conviction for the 1999 murder of senior high school student Hae Min Lee an incident that has been chronicled in the hit podcast Serial, a true-crime series that transfixed listeners and revolutionized the genre.

At the behest of prosecutors who had uncovered new evidence, Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn ordered that Syeds conviction be vacated as she approved the release of the now-41-year-old who has spent a lot more than 2 decades behind bars. There have been gasps and applause in the crowded courtroom because the judge announced her decision.

Phinn ruled that hawaii violated its legal obligation to talk about evidence which could have bolstered Syeds defense. She ordered Syed to be positioned on home detention with GPS location monitoring. The judge also said hawaii must decide whether to get a fresh trial date or dismiss the case within 30 days.

Fine Mr. Syed, youre absolve to join your loved ones, Phinn said because the hearing ended.

Minutes later, Syed emerged from the courthouse and flashed a smile as he was shepherded to a waiting SUV by way of a sea of cameras and a cheering crowd of supporters.

Syed didn’t speak through the hearing, nor did he address the reporters outside afterward. But following the hearing, his lawyer Erica Suter described his a reaction to your choice, saying: He said he couldnt believe its real.

Sara Patel, a pal of Syeds, said were happy and relieved that hes finally free. Weve just been on pins and needles this whole time.

Syed has always maintained his innocence. His case captured the eye of millions in 2014 once the debut season of Serial centered on Lees killing and raised doubts about a few of the evidence prosecutors had used, inspiring heated debates across dinner tables and water coolers about Syeds innocence or guilt.

The other day, prosecutors filed a motion saying an extended investigation conducted with the defense had uncovered new evidence which could undermine the conviction of Syed, Lees ex-boyfriend, in 2000.

I am aware how difficult that is, but we have to make certain we contain the correct person accountable, assistant states attorney Becky Feldman told the judge as she described various details from the case that undermine the decades-old conviction, including other suspects, flawed cellphone data, unreliable witness testimony and a potentially biased detective.

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Following the hearing, States Attorney Marilyn Mosby said investigators are looking forward to the outcomes of DNA analysis before determining whether to get a fresh trial date or get rid of the case against Syed and certify his innocence.

Syed was serving a life sentence after he was convicted of strangling 18-year-old Lee, whose body was found buried in a Baltimore park.

The investigation revealed undisclosed and newly-developed information regarding two alternative suspects, in addition to unreliable cellular phone tower data, Mosbys office said in a news release the other day. Another suspects were known persons during the initial investigation, but werent properly eliminated nor disclosed to the defense, said prosecutors, who declined release a information regarding the suspects, because of the ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors said the failure to reveal the choice suspects to defense attorneys amounted to whats referred to as a Brady violation.

But Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, whose office represented hawaii during Syeds appeals, issued a statement Monday evening saying on the list of other serious issues with the motion to vacate, the allegations linked to Brady violations are incorrect.

Neither States Attorney Mosby nor anyone from her office bothered to check with either the Assistant States Attorney who prosecuted the case or with anyone in my own office regarding these alleged violations, Frosh said. The file in cases like this was offered on several occasions to the defense.

Prosecutors said they werent asserting that Syed is innocent, however they lacked confidence in the integrity of the conviction and recommended his release. The states attorneys office had said if the motion were granted it could effectively put Syed in a fresh trial status, vacating his convictions, as the case remained active.

Syed was led in to the crowded courtroom in handcuffs Monday. Wearing a white shirt with a tie, he sat close to his attorney. His mother along with other family representatives were in the area, as was Mosby.

In 2016, a lesser court ordered a retrial for Syed on the lands that his attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, who died in 2004, didnt contact an alibi witness and provided ineffective counsel.

But following a group of appeals, Marylands highest court in 2019 denied a fresh trial in a 4-3 opinion. The Court of Appeals agreed with a lesser court that Syeds lawyer was deficient in failing woefully to investigate an alibi witness, nonetheless it disagreed that the deficiency prejudiced the case. The court said Syed waived his ineffective counsel claim.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to examine Syeds case in 2019.

The true-crime series was the brainchild of longtime radio producer and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, who spent greater than a year digging into Syeds case and reporting her findings in almost real-time in hour-long segments. The 12-episode podcast won a Peabody Award and was transformative in popularizing podcasts for a broad audience.

Through the hearing, Hae Min Lees brother Young Lee spoke to the court, saying he feels betrayed by prosecutors, since he thought the case was settled.

This is simply not a podcast for me personally. This is true to life, he said.

Speaking beyond your courthouse following the ruling, Mosby expressed sympathy for Lees brother and said she understands why he feels betrayed.

But I also understand the significance because the administer of the criminal justice system to make sure equality and justice and fairness. That’s eligible for the defendant, aswell, she added.

___ Associated Press writers Mike Kunzelman and Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to the report.

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