A Baltimore judge on Monday overturned the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, shown here in high school, whose case served as the subject for the first season of the "Serial" podcast. Photo courtesy The Adnan Syed Trust
Sept. 19 (UPI) -- A judge on Monday overturned the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, who became the subject of the first season of the podcast "Serial."
Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn overturned the first-degree murder conviction in the 1999 killing of Hae Min Lee that had brought Syed, 41, a life sentence at the maximum security Patuxent Institution, a state prison in Jessup, Md., for the past 23 years.
"At this time, we will remove the shackles from Mr. Syed," Phinn said.
The judge ordered Syed to serve home detention and remain on GPS monitoring to give prosecutors 30 days to decide whether to move for a new trial or drop the case.
Syed, who was 17 at the time of his arrest, has maintained his innocence in the killing of 18-year-old Lee, his classmate and ex-girlfriend, who was strangled to death and found buried in a park in Baltimore County in 1999.
Prosecutors earlier this month recommended that Syed's conviction be vacated and that he be granted a new trial, as the state "no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction."
In a motion filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Wednesday, prosecutors said that a yearlong investigation into the case had produced evidence suggesting the involvement of two "alternative suspects."
One of the suspects, prosecutors said, threatened Lee, saying "he would make her disappear" and "would kill her."
Prosecutors described one of the suspects as a serial rapist, who was convicted in a series of sexual assaults after Syed's trial. They said police discovered Lee's car near one of the suspect's residence.
The state did not disclose the alternative suspects to Syed's defense before Monday's hearing.
In addition, prosecutors said the investigation identified "significant reliability issues regarding the most critical pieces of evidence" used to convict Syed.
They highlighted inconsistent statements from Jay Wilds, Syed's co-defendant, who testified that he helped Syed bury Lee's body. Moreover, cellphone location data that was used to corroborate Wild's testimony by showing Syed had been in the area of the park has been found to be unreliable.
Lee's family had expressed concern that prosecutors hadn't provided enough advance notice about the plans to vacate the conviction. but Phinn denied a motion from their attorney, Steve Kelly, to postpone a decision on the motion.
"Lee's brother, Young Lee, said during the hearing Monday that he felt "betrayed" and "blindsided" by the motion to vacate.
"Whenever I think it's over and has ended, it always comes back," Lee said of the case. "It's killing me and killing my mother."
Syed's first trial on the charges ended with a mistrial in 1999, but a new jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment the following year.
His case gained new attention in 2014 when the podcast "Serial" launched a 12-episode series that examined peculiarities about his defense and raised new questions about Lee's death.
It was also the subject of several other books, podcasts and televised documentaries that led to new legal filings.
In 2018, an appeals court vacated Syed's conviction after ruling he had received ineffective legal counsel, but Maryland's Supreme Court reversed the decision in 2019.
Lawyers for Syed brought up the case again in 2021 after Maryland adopted a new law that allowed people convicted as juveniles to request to modify their sentences after they served 20 years in prison.