On Monday afternoon, Sept. 19, cheers from Adnan Syed’s family and supporters erupted throughout the courtroom as Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn announced her decision to overturn his conviction and asked law enforcement to “remove the shackles from Mr. Syed, please.”
The crowd’s elation carried outside below the courthouse steps, where dozens of supporters applauded the news with claps and honking car horns as Syed walked through the front doors alongside his mother, brother, and attorney, Erica Suter. The cheers continued as Syed was escorted to a white SUV and drove away.
Judge Phinn granted the prosecution’s motion to overturn the 41-year-old defendant’s murder conviction in the 1999 killing of his ex-girlfriend, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee. Syed, who has served the last 23 years in prison for Lee’s murder, was released on home detention Monday pending further investigation.
Twenty-Three Years Later
Suter, Syed’s attorney and director of the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic, addressed Judge Phinn’s ruling outside the Cummings Courthouse, saying that her client’s trial was “profoundly and outrageously unfair.”
“Evidence was hidden from him—evidence that pointed to other people as the killers,” Suter said. “This hidden evidence established that other people had threatened Hae’s life and hid her car in places known to them.”
Prosecutors should have provided Syed with this information “so he could defend himself,” she said.
According to Suter, 80 percent of exonerations on record in Baltimore involved withheld evidence. More than 3,000 innocent people have been exonerated nationwide, she said, while 44 percent of those cases involved evidence that the defendant was innocent but the evidence was never divulged.
Sadly, this isn’t unusual.
During Monday’s proceedings the prosecution brought into question the past misconduct of one of the two detectives who were crucial in the investigation of Lee’s death. Although his misconduct wasn’t specifically linked to Syed’s case, the detective was involved in another murder case that ended with the defendant’s exoneration.
The National Registry of Exonerations reports that Malcolm Bryant was accused of a fatal stabbing in 1998 in Baltimore City and was convicted the following year. Behind his conviction was a witness who identified Bryant as the suspect, insufficient and lack of DNA testing, and this detective.