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Judge denies 'Serial' subject Adnan Syed's release on bail

Officials escort "Serial" podcast subject Adnan Syed from the courthouse following the completion of the first day of hearings for a retrial in February.
Officials escort "Serial" podcast subject Adnan Syed from the courthouse following the completion of the first day of hearings for a retrial in February. (Karl Merton Ferron / TNS)

A Baltimore judge has denied Adnan Syed's request to be released on bail while he awaits a new trial, saying "there is still compelling evidence" against him.

Syed, whose case gained international attention through the popular "Serial" podcast launched in 2014, was convicted in the murder of his former girlfriend and Woodlawn High School classmate Hae Min Lee in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison. But Circuit Judge Martin P. Welch vacated his conviction in June and ordered a new trial, a decision that prosecutors are appealing.

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Attorney C. Justin Brown argued for Syed's release on bail, saying in court filings that the appeals process could take years and that Syed has shown he is a good candidate for release pending a new trial.

In an opinion released Wednesday, Welch cited the seriousness of the crime, among other factors, in denying Syed's release.

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"The circuit court finds that the nature and circumstances of the offenses are the most serious in nature and there is still compelling evidence against Petitioner," Welch wrote.

Welch wrote that he considered several factors, including whether Syed would be a danger to the community or a flight risk. He noted that Syed's role in the "Serial" podcast would hurt him if he attempted to flee.

"Because of the publicity garnered by his case, he is virtually recognized by the entire world," he wrote.

But he also noted the state's argument that Syed's "notoriety and access to the financial capital of others can be as much an asset as an obstacle to flight."

In a statement Thursday, Brown called the judge's ruling "a setback," but added that "we are focused on the bigger picture of getting back to court and proving his innocence."

Brown said Syed has unfairly spent 17 years behind bars based on an unconstitutional conviction and should be released. Brown said Syed is not a threat, given that he has not committed any violence while in prison.

"Adnan has been locked up for 17 years in some of the most dangerous places in our society, yet he has not done anything violent. In fact, he has been a model prisoner," Brown said in an interview Thursday.

The judge also denied Syed's request for a hearing on his request to be released on bail.

In 2014, Syed became the subject of the "Serial" podcast, which raised questions about his case and how it was handled that helped prompt a new hearing. In June, Welch ruled that Syed's initial trial attorney provided ineffective counsel. He vacated Syed's conviction and ordered a new trial.

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