A 19-year-old honors student convicted of strangling his girlfriend and burying her in a shallow grave because she broke up with him was sentenced in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Adnan Masud Syed maintained his innocence at his sentencing on first-degree murder and kidnapping convictions, even as his attorney asked Judge Wanda K. Heard for mercy when punishing Syed because the killing was "a crime of passion."
"He made a bad decision," Syed's attorney, Charles H. Dorsey III, told Heard.
But then, moments later, Syed, an honors student at Woodlawn High School at the time of the killing, told the judge he did not kill Hae Min Lee, 18.
"I have maintained my innocence from the beginning," said Syed, who worked as a paramedic.
Syed, of the 7000 block of Johnnycake Road, said he planned to appeal his conviction, which occurred in February.
Yesterday's hearing was marked by the emotional testimony of the victim's mother, Youn Wha Kim, a native of Korea. Through an interpreter, she said that she moved her family to America so she could give her children a "decent education and a decent future."
"I would like to forgive Adnan Syed, but as of now, I just don't know how I could," Kim said. "When I die, my daughter will die with me. As long as I live, my daughter is buried in my heart."
Kim nearly collapsed as she stepped off the witness stand and was escorted outside by family members. Her sobs could be heard inside the courtroom.
Court records say Syed told police that he and Lee, classmates at Woodlawn, dated in 1998 but kept their relationship secret because of religious and cultural differences. They broke up, the records say, in December 1998.
Syed became upset when Lee began dating another man, said Assistant State's Attorney Kevin Urick. Syed was an honors student who had a supportive family, the prosecutor said.
"Solely because of hurt pride, he chose to kill," Urick told the judge. "There is nothing here to excuse or explain" the murder.
Heard agreed. She gave Syed a sentence of life plus 30 years.
Noting Syed's intellect and popularity at school, Heard said: "You used that to manipulate people. Even today, I think you continue to manipulate even those who love you."
Lee was last seen on Jan. 13, 1999, driving from school. A few weeks later, a man walking in Leakin Park in West Baltimore found her partially buried body.