A Maryland appeals court on Tuesday formally reinstated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, who was released from prison last fall after a judge vacated his conviction in the 1999 death of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.
The decision stems from a technical victim’s rights appeal from Lee’s brother, who asked for a do-over of the court hearing that led to Syed’s release after 23 years in prison. Syed’s case gained worldwide attention after the hit podcast Serial.
Young Lee, the victim’s brother, claimed his rights as a crime victim were denied when the court held a “clandestine” hearing last year that led to Syed’s release. He argued that the Lee family was not given any opportunity to participate in person.
The judges ruled that the state violated Lee’s rights when they gave him only a one-day notice before the hearing on Sept. 19, 2022. Lee lives in California and was only given the chance to attend remotely.
The panel of appellate judges ordered a “new, legally compliant, and transparent hearing” on the original motion to vacate Syed’s charges, so that the Lee family can attend.
David Sanford, an attorney for the Lee family, said in a statement that he is “delighted” by the ruling instructing the state court to conduct a “transparent hearing where the evidence will be presented in open court and the court’s decision will be based on evidence for the world to see.”
In a previous statement, the Lee family said they do not seek to impact Syed’s release from prison, but instead hope to get answers about the evidence that freed him.
Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and childhood friend of Syed who fought for his release, said on Twitter that she stands by the evidence that originally exonerated him, and urged the Baltimore Police and States Attorney’s office “to find the source of the DNA on the victims shoes and find Hae Min Lee’s actual killer.”
The order noted that Syed remains free from double jeopardy, meaning he can’t be prosecuted again for the same case.
Erica J. Suter, Syed’s counsel, said they intend to ask the Maryland Supreme Court to review the conviction. “There is no basis for re-traumatizing Adnan by returning him to the status of a convicted felon,” she said. “For the time being, Adnan remains a free man.”
It’s unclear whether Syed will have to return to custody; a local legal expert previously told Semafor that the decision could be up to prosecutors.
The judges ruled that their order wouldn’t take effect for 60 days to give parties “time to address how to proceed.”