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Crime

Family of Hae Min Lee to appeal Baltimore judge’s decision to free Adnan Syed

A collage of photographs of Hae Min Lee and her friends were on display at Lee's memorial service.

The family of Hae Min Lee will appeal a Baltimore judge’s decision to overturn Adnan Syed’s 22-year-old murder conviction in Lee’s death, and the Maryland Attorney General’s Office is expected to file a brief arguing the judge erred in releasing Syed.

Attorney Steve Kelly, who represents the Lee family, told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday night he filed the Lee family’s notice to appeal earlier in the day.

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“Young Lee [Hae Min Lee’s brother] filed the notice of appeal based on violations of his family’s right to meaningfully participate in the Sept. 19, 2022 hearing on the motion to vacate Adnan Syed’s conviction,” Kelly told The Sun in a statement. “The notice of appeal is the first step in seeking the Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ review of the potential violations of Maryland’s victim’s rights statutes in connection with the hearing.”

Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn last week overturned Syed’s conviction after prosecutors in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office said they found evidence suggesting Syed’s innocence that had not previously been disclosed to defense attorneys in the case. Syed’s case became a matter of international intrigue following the 2014 release of the “Serial” podcast, which reexamined his legal saga.

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A jury in 2000 convicted Syed of murdering Lee, his former high school girlfriend, and burying her in a shallow grave in Leakin Park. Syed, still charged with murder pending current prosecutors’ decision on whether to retry him or dismiss the charges, has always maintained his innocence.

Phinn ordered a new trial in the matter, but under Maryland law prosecutors have 30 days to either dismiss the charges or to continue with a new trial.

The Lee family will likely appeal on the grounds they were not given enough prior notice about the hearing to overturn Syed’s conviction. Maryland law does not specifically say how much notice a victim’s family needs before a hearing, but it is inferred that they should be given a “reasonable” amount of time, Kelly previously said.

In the appellate process, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office will represent the prosecution. The office has argued Syed was guilty throughout his previous appeals.

Last week, Mosby accused Attorney General Brian Frosh and his office of misconduct, saying it hid alternative suspects from Syed’s lawyers. However, Frosh, in a statement last week, denied that claim, saying no evidence was withheld by his office.

Frosh declined to address Mosby’s misconduct accusations Thursday but said he believes Syed is guilty.

The attorney general’s office is expected to file a brief arguing that Phinn erred when she overturned Syed’s conviction, according to people familiar with the attorney general’s plans but who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Frosh declined to discuss his plans for the appellate courts other than to say his office would be handling filings on behalf of the prosecution.

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Phinn scheduled the hearing on whether to vacate Syed’s conviction on Friday, Sept. 16, for the following Monday, Sept. 19 — less than one full business day. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office notified the Lee family Friday afternoon and did not receive a response until Sunday, the day before the hearing, Becky Feldman, chief of Mosby’s sentencing review unit, said in court.

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Originally, Young Lee told Feldman in a text message the day before the hearing he would attend virtually. That changed after the Lee family hired Kelly later that evening, with Kelly filing a motion to postpone last week’s hearing for seven days so Young Lee could attend in person.

Phinn denied that motion, saying the Lee family was given ample time and that appearing via videocall was sufficient.

Mosby’s office has said it considered the Lee family in its proceedings at every step of the way, but felt it could not wait to free Syed, whose conviction her office no longer believed in.

“We truly empathize with Hae Min Lee’s family, who believed they had resolution and are now being re-traumatized by the misdeeds of the prior prosecutors,” state’s attorney’s office spokesperson Zy Richardson said in a statement. “As administrators of the criminal justice system, our responsibility is to ensure that justice is done, and the right person is held accountable. We refuse to be distracted from this fundamental obligation and will never give up in our fight with the Lee family.”

City prosecutors said they have since developed two alternative suspects who might have killed Lee, including one person who prosecutors say threatened to kill her. That threat, Feldman swore in an affidavit, was never disclosed to Syed’s defense attorney, and its discovery prompted the motion to overturn his conviction.

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Mosby said last week that she planned to dismiss the charges against Syed and formally declare his innocence if pending DNA tests in his case came back inconclusive or suggested another suspect.

Baltimore Sun reporter Alex Mann contributed reporting to this article.


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