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US court reinstates 'Serial' podcast subject Adnan Syed's murder charge

Syed was found guilty of killing his former girlfriend in 1999 but released more than 20 years later after a retrial
Adnan Syed leaving a hearing at the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland, on 19 September 2022 (Reuters)

A court in the US state of Maryland reinstated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed on Tuesday, who was found guilty over the 1999 killing of his former girlfriend in a case that captured international attention after the podcast "Serial" raised doubts over his guilt.

After an investigation identified problems with the case, a circuit court judge vacated Syed's conviction last year and ordered his release. 

On Tuesday, a Maryland appellate court panel, in a 2-1 decision, ordered a new hearing into the matter, saying the lower court had violated the rights of the victim's family to attend a critical hearing in the case.

The court ruled that Young Lee, the brother of Syed's ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, was given less than one business day to attend last year's hearing and was required to attend remotely.

Maryland law provides victims' families with the right to prior notice of these hearings - and it was decided that rule was violated.

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"This Court has the power and obligation to remedy those violations, as long we can do so without violating Mr Syed’s right to be free from double jeopardy," the panel said in its ruling.

"Accordingly, we vacate the circuit court's order vacating Mr Syed's convictions, which results in the reinstatement of the original convictions and sentence," it said.

Though Syed's conviction has been reinstated, he will not be taken back into custody.

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"It took over two decades for prosecutors to finally acknowledge what Adnan Syed and his loved ones have been saying since day one: he did not murder Hae Min Lee," a statement from Syed's attorney, Erica Suter, read.

"The appeal was not about Adnan's innocence but about notice and mootness. The Appellate Court of Maryland has reinstated Adnan's convictions, not because the Motion to Vacate was erroneous, but because Ms. Lee’s brother did not appear in person at the vacatur hearing. We agree with the dissenting judge that the appeal is moot and that Mr. Lee's attendance over Zoom was sufficient."

Syed has maintained he was innocent and did not kill Hae Min Lee, who was 18 when she was strangled and buried in a Baltimore park.

His case was picked up by the podcast Serial, hosted by investigative journalist Sarah Koenig, and drew international attention to the case in 2014.

Syed's first trial in 1999 ended in a mistrial, but in February 2000 he was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping, and sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison. 

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