Maryland Supreme Court holds off on reinstating Adnan Syed convictions as appeal continues

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The Supreme Court of Maryland decided Thursday to hold off on reinstating Adnan Syed’s convictions from the 1999 killing of his ex-girlfriend while it considers his latest appeal.

The order comes a day after Syed asked the state’s highest court to overrule the Appellate Court of Maryland’s opinion that would have restored his conviction and life sentence.


Syed, 43, has been free since September after serving 23 years behind bars for the killing of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee. He always has maintained his innocence in the case that rose to renown because of the hit podcast “Serial.”

Baltimore prosecutors last year identified issues in his decades-old convictions and presented them to a city Circuit Court judge, who agreed and withdrew his guilty findings and released him from prison. Then-State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby dismissed his charges in October, but Lee’s brother, Young Lee, already had appealed, saying his rights as a crime victim representative had been trampled on.


Allowing Lee’s appeal to go forward, the appellate court in March found that prosecutors and Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn neglected to give Young Lee enough notice of the Sept. 19 hearing that set Syed free, ordering that proceeding be redone. A California resident at the time, Young Lee spoke at the September hearing via video call, but the appellate court said he should have been able to attend in person.

The appellate court’s order would have reinstated Syed’s convictions and life sentence on Tuesday, 60 days after it was issued.

When Syed’s lawyers asked the state Supreme Court to overrule the appellate court’s ruling Wednesday, they also requested that the high court hold off on reimposing his convictions and sentence until Syed’s appeal played out. Both Young Lee’s lawyers and the state Office of the Attorney General, which represents prosecutors in appeals, consented to that request, according to Syed’s filing.

The Supreme Court’s one-page order Thursday says Syed’s conviction will not be reinstated while it considers whether to accept Syed’s appeal.

Syed’s lawyers said reinstating his conviction and sending him back to prison “would be devastating for him and his family.”

After his release, Syed got a job with Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative, where he supports incarcerated people and assists those returning to society. He also helps investigate claims of wrongful convictions.

Marc Howard, executive director of the Georgetown initiative, said during a March interview with The Baltimore Sun that Syed has become “an invaluable member of our team.”

“He amazes us everyday with his kindness, his generosity, his positive spirit, his willingness to be a team player,” Howard told The Sun.


According to Syed’s filing, he also has been taking care of his elderly parents, both of whom have serious health conditions.

“Mr. Syed’s return has meant a better quality of life for his loved ones as he is able to assist with the day-to-day management of his parents’ health, transport them to doctor’s appointments, and generally be of service to them,” his lawyers wrote.

Though Young Lee’s legal team agreed the courts should hold off on restoring Syed’s conviction while the appeal progresses, they said in a statement Wednesday they were confident the state Supreme Court would uphold the appellate court’s ruling.

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Lee’s body was found in a shallow grave in Baltimore’s Leakin Park by a maintenance worker in February 1999. Homicide detectives soon focused on Syed, who was 17 at the time, arresting him the same year. During trial, prosecutors postulated that Syed, a popular honors student, couldn’t handle it when Lee broke up with him. She was strangled to death and investigators found evidence of a struggle in her car.

A jury found Syed guilty of murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment in 2000. A judge sentenced him to life plus 30 years in prison.

After numerous appeals failed, Syed got a break in 2021 when city prosecutors launched a reinvestigation of his case. They said their investigation revealed two alternative suspects that their predecessors neglected to disclose to Syed’s trial defense team. Along with other issues, prosecutors said that made his trial unfair.


They moved last fall to throw out his conviction, and he walked free in front of a crowd of supporters and a gaggle of TV cameras on Sept. 19.

In their appeal Wednesday to the high court, Syed’s lawyers said the intermediate appellate court erred in its ruling.

They argued prosecutors voided Young Lee’s appeal when they dropped Syed’s charges. Though Young Lee received notice less than one business day before the September hearing, Syed’s lawyers said the court followed the law. They argued Phinn still would have vacated Syed’s conviction if Young Lee attended the hearing in-person rather than by video call — and that the appellate court failed to consider that in its analysis.

Syed’s lawyers say the ruling jeopardizes prosecutors’ discretion to dismiss cases, calls into question the role of victims in legal determinations like vacating convictions, and potentially hinders a judge’s ability to opt for video hearings.