Note that freed Adnan Syed and revealed ‘alternative suspect’ in Hae Min Lee’s death was misinterpreted, its author says

The author of the decades-old handwritten note Baltimore prosecutors cited as central to their argument to overturn Adnan Syed’s murder conviction in September now says his note was misinterpreted.

The note describes a threat made against Hae Min Lee that was relayed to Kevin Urick, the former Baltimore assistant state’s attorney who prosecuted Syed in 2000 and is the note’s author. Killed in 1999, Lee was Syed’s ex-girlfriend and his Woodlawn High School classmate.


“He told her that he would make her disappear. He would kill her,” Urick wrote more than two decades ago.

Urick transcribed the note weeks ago for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. In a footnote to the transcription, he said the threat present-day prosecutors are attributing to an alternative suspect was actually made by Syed, according to people familiar with the transcription but who are not authorized to speak publicly.


The note itself is poorly written and has not been released publicly by either the attorney general’s office or the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, through a spokesperson, declined to comment Tuesday. Urick did not return multiple calls seeking comment

The revelation that the note may have been misinterpreted comes after prosecutors dismissed the charges against Syed, exonerating him, following his release from custody in September. The note served as the bedrock for Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office’s motion to overturn Syed’s conviction, claiming Urick’s failure to give it to Syed’s defense attorney warranted a new trial for Syed.

Mosby’s office, in court filings, claimed the note was never turned over to Cristina Gutierrez, Syed’s defense attorney at the time, before the murder trial in 2000. Had Gutierrez, who died in 2004, known about the note and the threat prosecutors said the man made against Lee, she might have been able to use it at Syed’s trial, casting doubt on the original prosecution’s version of events.

In a statement Tuesday, Mosby’s office rejected Urick’s interpretation and said it stands by the investigation that ultimately led to Syed’s exoneration.

“It makes absolutely no sense to believe that Kevin Urick, who has now re-created an alleged transcript of an exculpatory call, is now attributing the threats to Adnan Syed,” state’s attorney spokeswoman Emily Witty said.

People who have seen the note, but who are not authorized to speak publicly, transcribed it for The Baltimore Sun. Urick wrote the note based on a phone call sometime in either late 1999 or early 2000 between himself and an attorney representing someone close to the man current-day prosecutors say is one of the alternative suspects in Lee’s death, the sources said.

“We are well aware of the person and the circumstances surrounding the call that was made identifying an alternative suspect in this case, in which additional documentation about the suspect was also provided,” Witty said.

The Sun is not identifying the alternative suspect because he has not been charged in connection to Lee’s death.


The note reads, in part, as follows: “Prior to murder — [the alternative suspect] was upset the woman was creating so many problems for Adnan. He told her that he would make her disappear. He would kill her. Admits [the alternative suspect] makes grandiose statements, very high opinion of himself so she did not take him serious...”

At issue is whether the “he” who made the threat in the note refers to Syed or to the alternative suspect. The note also does not name Lee specifically as the “her” who is the target of the threat, which The Sun first reported Oct. 3.

The full text of the note was first reported by The Baltimore Banner online news site.

Urick, in his transcription for the attorney general, said in the footnote to his transcript that the “he” is Syed, despite the contents appearing to refer to the alternative suspect.

However, in an appellate filing in Syed’s case last week, lawyers for Attorney General Brian Frosh said the note is subject to “multiple” interpretations but did not attribute the threat to Syed.


Mosby’s office never contacted Urick during its investigation, and has not spoken to him about the note, according to the attorney general’s filing.

The now-suspect was never called to testify at Syed’s trial, despite purchasing a cellphone for Syed, then aged 17, and counseling him about “friendships between members of the opposite sex,” as Syed’s relationship with Lee unraveled, court documents show.

The suspect was a leader at Syed’s mosque who personally mentored the honors student and helped Syed hire Gutierrez as his attorney after authorities charged him with murder, according to court documents. Syed called the man from jail and the man visited Syed multiple times while in custody.

In March 1999, the now-suspect testified before the grand jury investigating Lee’s homicide, with Gutierrez serving as his attorney while he answered the investigative body’s questions, according to court documents. The suspect testified about his relationship with Syed and the Islamic faith, according to a letter the man later wrote to a judge.

“Specifically,” the man wrote about his testimony, “I consider myself to be a religious teacher; that I gave religious advice to Mr. Syed; I explained to Mr. Syed the religious principles of the ‘Koran’ and the Prophets concerning friendships between members of the opposite sex; and I co-signed (with Mr. Syed) a contract for a cell phone for Mr. Syed, with the consent of his mother.”

Between 2010 and 2014, after the man became a medical professional, he sexually assaulted five male patients in Washington, D.C., after administering anesthesia, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release. In December 2017, he was sentenced to 16 years in federal prison.