BALTIMORE – The family of a young woman who was killed in 1999 will appeal a Baltimore judge’s recent order overturning the conviction of Adnan Syed, the man imprisoned for decades for Hae Min Lee's death, according to an attorney for the family.
Attorney Steve Kelly said Lee's family is not challenging Syed’s release, but instead wants the judge to hold another hearing that the family can attend in-person and address the court — Lee's brother Young Lee appeared via videoconference on short notice during the previous hearing.
“We’re not challenging the ruling, but asking for the hearing to be redone in accordance with the law,” Kelly told The Associated Press.
Syed, whose case was examined in the popular true-crime podcast “Serial,” was released earlier this month after prosecutors told a judge they had uncovered doubts about the fairness of the investigation. Syed has always maintained that he never killed Hae Min Lee, his ex-girlfriend.
On Wednesday, Young Lee filed a notice of appeal, alleging violations of the family’s right to meaningfully participate in the Sept. 19 hearing in which Syed secured his release, according to Kelly. It’s the first step in seeking the Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ review of the potential violations of victim’s rights statutes, Kelly said.
Syed was serving a life sentence after he was convicted of strangling Lee, whose body was found buried in a Baltimore park. He was 17 at the time of her death.
Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn's order to release Syed and vacate his murder conviction came after State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby asked the judge to vacate the conviction, saying a lengthy investigation conducted with the defense had uncovered new evidence that could undermine the conviction.
During the hearing, Young Lee spoke via videoconference, saying he felt betrayed by prosecutors since he thought the case was settled.
“This is not a podcast for me. This is real life,” he said.
Prosecutor Becky Feldman told the judge in the hearing that she contacted Young Lee before the motion was filed, and went over the motion with him. A day before the hearing, Young Lee indicated by text message that he would attend virtually, Feldman said. But that evening the Lee family hired Kelly, who filed a motion to postpone the hearing for seven days so Young Lee could attend in person. Phinn denied that motion, but paused the hearing by more than 30 minutes so that Lee, who was at work, could join the call.
Kelly said at the time that prosecutors shut the family out of the legal process, calling it “inexcusable” and a violation of Maryland law. The family is interested in the truth and might have supported Syed’s release if they had understood the basis, he said.
“The family is disappointed with the way that they were treated. They’re disappointed with the process. They want more than anybody to have the person who killed Hae Min Lee brought to justice,” Kelly said. “If that is not Mr. Syed then they’re open to the possibility of anybody else who actually did it being prosecuted.”
The Office of the Public Defender declined Thursday to comment on the notice of appeal. Syed's case captured the attention of millions in 2014 when the debut season of “Serial” focused on Lee’s killing and raised doubts about some of the evidence prosecutors had used.
Mosby, who entered office in 2015, has applauded the judge's decision and has said investigators are awaiting the results of “DNA analysis” before determining whether to seek a new trial date or throw out the case against Syed and “certify his innocence.”
State's Attorney's Office spokesperson Zy Richardson said in a statement that they empathize with Lee's family, “who believed they had resolution and are now being re-traumatized by the misdeeds of the prior prosecutors,” but they must ensure that the right person is held accountable, news outlets reported.
"We refuse to be distracted from this fundamental obligation and will never give up in our fight for the Lee family,” she said.
Feldman, who led a unit reexamining cases in which juvenile defendants were given life sentences, found notes written by a predecessor describing two phone calls in which people gave them information before Syed’s trial about someone with a motive to harm Lee. That information wasn’t given to the defense at the time, according prosecutors, an omission that Phinn said violated Syed's rights.
In a new “Serial” episode released a day after Syed was freed, host Sarah Koenig noted that most or all of the evidence cited in prosecutors’ motion to overturn the conviction was available since 1999. The case against Syed involved “just about every chronic problem” in the system, Koenig said, including unreliable witness testimony and evidence that was never shared with Syed’s defense team.