Adnan Syed was famously the subject of the massively popular “Serial” podcast. The investigative journalism podcast, hosted by Sarah Koenig and produced by Koenig and Julie Snyder, was acquired by The New York Times in 2020. Syed was previously convicted of murdering his ex high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. The pair were students at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland at the time of the crime.
Syed’s first trial in 2000 was deemed a mistrial, but on February 25, 2000, he was officially convicted of first degree murder and handed a life sentence. Years later, following the detailed work of “Serial” producers, evidence that exonerated Syed was presented. His DNA was not present on Lee’s belongings from the crime scene, and this is was the final piece that led to the overturn of Syed’s previous conviction in 2022. Syed was freed after serving 23 years in prison.
Today, the murder conviction was reinstated on a legal technicality. While Syed does not have to report back to prison in the meantime, he will need to head back to court. Lee’s brother, Young Lee, was not notified in advance about the September 2022 trial that resulted in Syed’s freedom. Lee did attend the trial via Zoom. The Appellate Court of Maryland ruled that a trial court had violated the right of Young Lee, and that the court will hold another trial regarding Syed’s status that Lee will be notified of in advance.
Syed’s lawyer, Erica J. Suter, told The New York Times that she planned to appeal the decision to reinstate Syed’s murder conviction to the Supreme Court of Maryland. “There is no basis for re-traumatizing Adnan by returning him to the status of a convicted felon. For the time being, Adnan remains a free man,” said Suter.
Syed’s case attracted national media attention because of the manner in which “Serial” covered it. Some argue that Syed’s ethnicity and religion were weaponized against him, as he is Pakistani-American and Muslim. Some are accusing the justice system of a racial bias.
the criminal "justice" system isn't broken but deliberately designedhttps://t.co/5Bo9i6kkVE
— Cyberfunk (@__cyberfunk__) March 28, 2023
Regardless of the public opinion on the specifics of the case, many argue that an exonerated person should not be tried for a second time on the technicality at hand.
1. What would Young Lee have said differently if he was in person rather than over zoom? 2. The judge ruled on further evidence that there is not enough to convict. This ruling is a disgrace to the system of Justice. #TheCaseAgainstAdnanSyed #AdnanSyed #Baltimore 👎🏻
— amy berg (@disarmingfilms) March 28, 2023
I don’t understand how the presence of someone other than the defendant is relevant to a hearing deciding whether his LIFE SENTENCE is valid https://t.co/66PFhlOe2V
— Rachel Sklar (she/her) (@rachelsklar) March 28, 2023
Many were angered by the reinstatement of Syed’s conviction, as it had nothing to do with the evidence presented in court that exonerated him.
They reinstated Adnan Syed’s conviction on a fucking technicality. One that has NOTHING to do with the actual case.
I am actually shaking rn I’m so angry.
Maybe stop playing games with people’s lives and start actually trying to solve a heinous murder @MDJudiciary?
— jackie (@jaxinphilly) March 28, 2023
True crime aficionados are pointing out that the scenario is a prime example of why they feel the U.S. judicial system needs reform.
Whole Adnan Syed thing is such a strong example of how the system harms both the accused and victims, two sides that are pitted against each other when the issue is the system itself
— Kimya كيميا (@kimyaf) March 28, 2023
Since his release from prison, Syed has worked as a program associate for Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative. A colleague from the university, Professor of Government and Law Marc Howard, posted a statement of solidarity for Syed, affirming his innocence.
I reaffirm my unwavering support for my colleague and friend Adnan Syed. Today’s ruling does not change the facts in Adnan’s case or erase the injustices that led to his wrongful conviction. (1/2)
— Marc Howard (@marcmhoward) March 28, 2023
“Serial” has been credited for widely popularizing the True Crime genre at large, inspiring thousands of podcasts that cover similar crimes across social media. Journalist Sarah Isgur expressed in a Tweet that she felt that the podcast listeners should have never been involved in the case to begin with.
This is why criminal cases should be decided by juries and not by podcast listeners. https://t.co/C7S3HSNGYp
— Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons) March 28, 2023
Should Syed actually be convicted of murder again and sent back to prison, this could mark a huge reckoning in the True Crime podcasting industry. Some have criticized a few podcaster’s alleged lack of sensitivity to the victims, and the romanticization of serial killers like Jeffery Dahmer.
Potential negatives aside, should Syed be cleared of all charges once again, this could only reaffirm True Crime’s purpose in the first place–to occasionally do the digging in places that police never thought to look in.