Adnan Syed has been released from prison after serving 23 years for the murder of Hae Min Lee, after a Baltimore judge overturned the case Monday. As his story continues, so does the true crime podcast “Serial,” which popularized the case and made Syed a household name in its record-setting first season, which investigated the murder.
Returning to the mic on Tuesday morning with “Serial’s” first new episode since 2018 was host Sarah Koenig, who was at the Baltimore City Circuit Court when Syed was released Monday. Prosecutors were given 30 days to decide whether to move for a new trial or drop the case against Syed, who is now 41.
Here are the main takeaways from the brand new episode of “Serial”:
Prosecutors are not saying Adnan Syed is innocent
While Syed has been released from prison and placed under home detention, prosecutors are not exonerating him. Rather, “they’re saying, back in 1999, we didn’t investigate this case thoroughly enough. We relied on evidence we shouldn’t have, and we broke the rules when we prosecuted. This wasn’t an honest conviction,'” as Koenig reports.
Koenig also says that the prosecutor’s office did not set out to take down Syed’s case, and that “it just kind of crumbled once they took a hard look.”
Juvenile Restoration Act
About a year ago, Maryland enacted the Juvenile Restoration Act. It allows those who have spent at least 20 years in prison for a crime they committed when they were a juvenile to ask to court to reduce their sentence. Syed was 17 when he was arrested for killing Lee. On Oct. 2, 2021, one day after the law went into effect, Syed’s attorney, Erica Suter, delivered his case to the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.
A new prosecutor takes another look at the case
Suter’s request went to Becky Feldman, chief of the sentencing review unit for the prosector’s office. While Feldman served as a Baltimore public defender for years prior, she is relatively new to the prosecutorial side (her LinkedIn profile indicates that she started there in December 2020). Thus, Feldman examined Syed’s case with a fresh set of eyes and started “pulling threads” with Suter. In March, Feldman’s office asked a judge to order new high-tech DNA testing (the results came back in August with “nothing really conclusive or useful”). While they waited for that, she consulted cell phone and polygraph experts and investigated Google Maps and land records.
When taking a look at Syed’s massive case file, Feldman discovered handwritten notes that pointed to alternate suspects. Suter confirmed they had never seen the notes before, but detectives were aware of them at the time. While the notes are undated, they appear to be written by a prosecutor before Syed was tried. The notes detail phone calls from two different people giving the State’s Attorney’s Office information about the same person, who apparently had a motive to kill Lee and was heard saying he would “make her disappear” and “kill her.”
Feldman said the state found the information in these notes to be credible. Since it looks like Syed’s attorneys were never made aware of these calls, the state may have made a major breach in not turning over this evidence to the defense, which calls for a Brady violation.
Koenig did not name either of the two new suspects, as neither has been charged with a crime, but she revealed that “one or both of them have relevant criminal histories, mostly crimes committed after Adnan’s trial, one of them for a series of sexual assaults.” One of the suspects is currently in prison for sexual assault. One has a connection to the location where Lee disappeared. Both were investigated at the time of Syed’s trial, but “not with much vigor, as far as I can tell,” Koenig says.
Feldman files a motion to vacate
Given the “bouquet of problems” relating to Syed’s case, Feldman filed a motion to vacate, as the state could no longer “justify holding Adnan in prison anymore.”
Jay’s story doesn’t add up
Listeners of “Serial” will remember “star witness” Jay Wilds, Syed’s friend from high school who told the state Syed killed Lee and showed him her body, then coerced Wilds into helping bury her in a city park. Throughout the podcast, Koenig notes how Wilds’ story kept changing. In the motion to vacate, Feldman pointed to one glaring example: the location where Wilds claims Syed showed him Lee’s body changed three times over the course of the investigation.
The state knew Wilds’ testimony was shaky at the time, but they relied on cell phone records to corroborate it. After speaking with cell phone experts, Feldman stated in her motion to vacate that the evidence is unreliable, and that the state cannot use incoming call records to corroborate Wilds’ story.
A problematic detective
Feldman also included in her motion a section about Bill Ritz, who was one of the two main detectives on Syed’s case. Ritz faced misconduct allegations on another murder case that went to trial the same year Syed was charged. He was accused of “manipulating evidence, fabricating evidence, not disclosing exculpatory evidence, not following up on evidence that pointed to a different suspect.” As Koenig notes, “Ritz was one of the two detectives who repeatedly interviewed Jay Wilds.” In 2016, the suspect convicted in Ritz’s other case was exonerated.
It’s unclear what will happen next, but it’s likely Syed will remain free
The state has 30 days to decide whether to move to a new trial or drop the case against Syed. But as Koenig predicts, “the chances of the state ever trying to prosecute Adnan again are remote at best.”
Listen to the full episode below.