At the behest of prosecutors in Baltimore, U.S. District Court Judge Melissa Finn ordered that Adnan Syed be acquitted of the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee and approved the release of the 41-year-old man who spent more than two decades behind bars.
Judge Finn ruled that the state breached its legal obligations to share exculpatory evidence with Mr. Syed’s defense.
She ordered that he be released from custody and placed in custody with an electronic tag. She also ordered the state to decide whether to seek a new trial date or dismiss the case within 30 days.
Mr. Syed, who has always maintained his innocence, gained widespread attention in 2014 when the show’s debut season focused on Ms. Lee’s murder and cast doubt on some of the evidence used by prosecutors, inspiring countless debates about Mr. Syed’s innocence or guilt. .
Prosecutors filed a motion last week saying a lengthy investigation with the defense had turned up new evidence that could undermine the 2000 conviction of Mr. Syed, who was Ms. Lee’s ex-boyfriend.
He was serving a life sentence after being found guilty of strangling an 18-year-old whose body was found buried in a Baltimore park.
The investigation “revealed undisclosed and new information regarding two other suspects, as well as unreliable cell tower data,” State Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office said in a news release last week.
The suspects were known at the time of the initial investigation but were not properly ruled out or disclosed to the defense, said prosecutors, who declined to release information about the suspects because of the ongoing investigation.
Prosecutors said they did not claim Mr. Syed was innocent, but lacked confidence in the “integrity of the verdict” and recommended he be released on recognizance or bail.
State prosecutors said that if the motion is granted, it would effectively put Mr. Syed in a new trial status, vacating his convictions while the case remained active.
On Monday, he was brought into a packed courtroom in handcuffs, wearing a white shirt and tie. He sat next to his lawyer, and his mother and other family members were in the room, as was Ms. Mosby.
In 2016, a lower court ordered a retrial for Mr. Syed on the grounds that his lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, who died in 2004, failed to contact an alibi witness and provided ineffective counsel.
After a series of appeals, Maryland’s highest court in 2019 denied a new trial in a 4-3 decision. The appeals court agreed with the lower court that Mr Syed’s legal counsel failed to investigate the witness’s alibi, but disagreed that this failure prejudiced the case. The court said Mr. Syed had waived his ineffective counsel claim.
The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2019.
The true-crime podcast was the brainchild of longtime radio producer and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, who dug into Mr. Syed’s case for more than a year and reported her findings in near-real time in hour-long segments.
The 12-episode podcast won a Peabody Award and revolutionized the popularization of podcasts for a wider audience.