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Family Of Hae Min Lee Wants A 'Redo' Of Syed Adnan's Overturned Conviction Hearing
Lawyers say Adnan Syed's murder conviction should be reinstated because Young Lee, the brother of 1999 murder victim Hae Min Lee, "had no opportunity to participate" in the hearing.
Lawyers representing Young Lee, brother of murder victim Hae Min Lee, 18, are asking the higher courts that Syed’s tossed murder conviction be reinstated so that Lee can be present for the physical courtroom proceedings.
Adnan Syed, 41, had his conviction set aside during a vacatur hearing in September, where Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn ordered the defendant’s release from prison after ruling the state failed to hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense.
Syed spent more than 20 years behind bars for his girlfriend’s 1999 murder, in which Lee was found strangled to death in a Baltimore park, as chronicled in the hit 2014 podcast “Serial,” which largely contributed to Syed’s eventual exoneration.
According to Lee’s attorneys, David Sanford and Steve Kelly of the Sanford Heisler Sharp law firm, their client was offered “no opportunity to participate” in the hearing, according to an e-mailed statement to Oxygen.com.
Parties representing Lee, as well as those representing Adnan and the state, presented their arguments at the Appellate Court of Maryland in Annapolis on Thursday morning, spending an hour primarily discussing the terminology of state rules and statutes, as observed by Oxygen.com.
Appellate Court Judges E. Gregory Wells, Kathryn Graeff, and Stuart Berger heard arguments on all sides, though they have yet to make a decision.
Although Young Lee did appear virtually in the September hearings, lawyers argue he was not permitted ample opportunity to travel from his home in California to appear in the courtroom.
Attorneys added the hearing itself was “held without evidence,” and was “improper” and “clandestine,” according to their statement to Oxygen.com.
In court, attorney Sanford called it “deeply problematic” before being asked on what authority there is for victims to be present for legal proceedings in chambers. Judge Berger noted it was common for such events to occur behind closed doors before being presented in open court for public record.
Sanford claimed the prosecution characterized the hearing as a scheduling hearing but that it “morphed” into a proceeding where Brady material — or any prosecutorial material that would have supported Syed’s case — was presented.
“Mr. Lee is seeking a redo of the vacatur hearing with the proper procedures and safeguards, with an opportunity to hear, see, understand, and question the evidence presented, which resulted in the release of Adnan Syed,” per Sanford’s statement to Oxygen.com.
Judges argued that no clearly-defined statute existed short of a cross-reference written into an article outlining a victim’s right to be heard in such proceedings, though who made the cross-reference — be it a drafter or editor — was unclear.
Erica Suter, representing Syed, told the panel that Mr. Lee “was notified, did attend, and did participate, although he doesn’t actually have the right to participate,” citing state statutes.
“Your Honors, this court should dismiss this appeal as moot because there is no criminal case that exists anymore for which this court could remand,” Suter stated.
However, should the judges agree with Lee’s defense that the vacatur proceeding was invalid, a criminal case could then exist once again.
Parties agreed that Young Lee was e-mailed notice of the hearing on Friday, three days before the proceeding took place. However when Lee actually saw the e-mail was a matter of question, as was whether “notice” versus “reasonable notice” was sufficient for the courts.
Suter said notice was sent to Lee once the state became aware of a hearing date.
“I think we would be in different circumstances if the state did not provide Mr. Lee with a Zoom option, but we are in very different times now,” said Suter.
Syed was present at the Thursday morning hearing, according to CBS Baltimore affiliate WJZ-TV.
Speaking outside the Annapolis courtroom, he asked the court to think of his family, according to NBC News.
“It’s just really hard for us,” Syed stated. “It’s hard for my dad. It’s hard for my mom. It’s hard for my younger brother. It seems like our family, we just always go unnoticed."
“We respect and we honor the fact that Hae’s family suffers so much and we just wished they could get the answers that they can have. We just hope that the court also recognizes that our family suffers, too," he continued.
A deadline was not established for when the judges would return with a ruling.