In the finale of an HBO series examining the murder case against Adnan Syed, state prosecutors offer the famous prisoner a plea deal after nearly 20 years behind bars.
The deal came four months ago and offered Syed his first chance at freedom since he became a household name in the hit podcast “Serial.” He was sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. The Woodlawn man has maintained his innocence and the HBO series “The Case Against Adnan Syed” concluded Sunday with the revelation of the plea offer.
Syed, however, turned down the deal. He would have had to admit to Lee's murder.
“The type of deal that they’d be offering me,” he says, “it’s like I’d be exchanging one prison for another.”
In the documentary, Syed’s defense attorney, C. Justin Brown, returns from a meeting with state prosecutors.
“They want him to plead guilty,” Brown says, “and they want him to serve four more years of prison.”
On Sunday night, a spokeswoman for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh confirmed the offer, which would have brought Syed’s release in late 2022.
“He’s got to make a really difficult decision,” Brown says in the documentary. “He could turn down this offer and we could lose the case and he could spend the rest of his life in prison. And you can imagine how hard it would be to live with that.”
Lee was a Woodlawn High School senior when she was found strangled to death and buried in Baltimore’s Leakin Park. Detectives pursued Syed after an anonymous tip and eventually charged him with killing her. Prosecutors said the then-17-year-old had murdered her out of jealousy after finding she was dating someone else. No physical evidence linked Syed to the crime.
Syed had been convicted after a witness, Jay Wilds, said he helped Syed bury her body. Wilds’ testimony has been the subject of many questions over the years. Now the documentary filmmakers say Wilds spoke to them and offered yet another account of the crime — one different from what he told police.
In the documentary, Brown drives to the state prison in Western Maryland to discuss the plea offer with Syed. The prisoner then speaks to the filmmakers by phone.
“What they’re offering is so bad, you know, it’s so unreasonable,” Syed says. “They’re going to want me to stand in court and say, ‘Listen I did it. I lied to my mom and dad. I lied to [“Serial” podcast host] Sarah Koenig … When I was a kid, they threatened to take away my future … Now it’s a lot different, you know, cause I don’t really have anything they can take away.”
Syed previously appealed his conviction on the grounds that his first attorney failed to call a key alibi witness. He also questioned the reliability of cell phone evidence used to place him where Lee's body was found.
Last year an appeals court sided with him and ordered his conviction be thrown out. But prosecutors appealed to Maryland’s highest court.
Four weeks ago, the court ruled Syed did not deserve a new trial. His murder conviction was reinstated.