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Crime News

Adnan Syed's Murder Conviction Reinstated After Appeals Court Sides With Hae Min Lee's Family

Murder victim Hae Min Lee's brother wasn't given sufficient notice to attend a critical hearing that resulted Adnan Syed's conviction being vacated, which violated his constitutional rights, according to a Maryland appellate court.

By Cydney Contreras

Adnan Syed's conviction and sentence for the February 1999 killing of Hae Min Lee was reinstated after a Maryland appeals court ruled that her family was deprived of their right to physically attend a hearing in the case.

The appellate court ruled Tuesday that Hae Min Lee's brother Young Lee's rights "were violated in this case" after he wasn't given adequate opportunity to attend the hearing in person, according to the ruling obtained by Oxygen.com. He was present over a video link.

"The State gave Mr. Lee notice only one business day before the hearing, which was insufficient time to reasonably allow Mr. Lee, who lived in California, to attend the hearing in person, and therefore, the court required Mr. Lee to attend the hearing remotely," the decision continued.

The decision further stated that Lee's right to attend in person, alongside others involved in the hearing, was unconstitutionally denied. Allowing Lee to physically attend is "consistent with the constitutional requirement that victims be treated with dignity and respect," the ruling explained.

As a result, the appellate court ruled that Syed's conviction and sentence be reinstated so that the Lee family can attend a "new, legally compliant, and transparent hearing on the motion to vacate." 

All parties have been given 60 days to decide how to proceed, according to the decision.

In response to the decision, Lee family attorney David Sanford said, "We are delighted that the Appellate Court of Maryland agrees with Mr. Lee that his right to have reasonable notice of the Syed vacatur hearing and his right to be physically present at that hearing were violated by the trial court. We are equally pleased that the Appellate Court is directing the lower 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."

James E. Bentley II, the director of communications for the Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City, said in a statement to Oxygen.com, "The posture of the case currently is that the Appellate Court of Maryland has reinstated Mr. Syed's conviction and sentence. This office is currently conducting a review of the decision. We must allow the appeals process to play itself out, Mr. Syed and his legal team may file for an appeal to the Maryland Supreme Court, and we must respect their rights to do so until those rights are either heard or that request is denied; we are in a holding pattern. Any further comment would be premature at this time."

Adnan Syed leaves the courthouse after being released from prison

Syed's murder, kidnapping, robbery and false imprisonment convictions were vacated following a Sept. 19 hearing. During the proceedings, Young Lee asked Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn to delay the hearing so he could have time to prepare and testify in person.

"I was kind of blindsided. I always thought the state was on my side, but out of nowhere I hear that there’s a motion to vacate judgment, and I thought, honestly, I felt betrayed,” Lee testified via Zoom, according to NBC News.

Nonetheless, Phinn moved forward, vacating Syed's conviction on the basis that the prosecutors did not properly share evidence — including information regarding two alternative suspects — with Syed's defense attorneys, potentially preventing him from having a fair trial. Syed was immediately freed from prison.

Following Phinn's decision, Lee's attorney, Steve Kelly, filed a notice of appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Sept. 28, citing a violation of the Maryland's victims' rights statutes.

However, Kelly explained that the Lee family does not want to see Syed behind bars if he is indeed innocent.

"If the wrong person has been behind bars for 23 years, the Lee family and the rest of the world want to understand what new evidence has led to that conclusion," Kelly explained in a September statement to Oxygen.com. "If Mr. Syed has been wrongfully convicted for Hae Min Lee’s murder, the state of Maryland would need to take responsibility for that extraordinary miscarriage of justice and would need to do everything possible to bring the actual killer to justice. The Lee family deserves at least that much."

Shortly after the Lee family filed their appeal, the State's Attorney's Office announced on Oct. 11 that they would dropping all charges against Syed, citing DNA evidence that was recently tested. The tests were conducted on DNA found on Lee's clothing, including her pantyhose and shoes. While male DNA was found, State Attorney Marilyn Mosby said. "Most compellingly, Adnan Syed — his DNA was excluded.” 

Syed's case was first brought into the spotlight by the 2014 podcast "Serial," hosted by journalist Sarah Koenig. 

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