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Update: On Sept. 19, 2022, a Baltimore judge ordered the release of Adnan Syed after overturning his conviction for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. The move happened after Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed a motion to vacate Syed’s conviction, citing evidence that casts doubt on the original case. Read more about that evidence here.
In the first episode of HBO's new docu-series "The Case Against Adnan Syed," viewers meet a family clearly still devastated and reeling from Hae Min Lee's murder case. But it's not Lee's family viewers get to know: It's the family of Adnan Syed, the man convicted of her murder. So what happened to the Syed family after Adnan was sent to prison?
By now, most people know what sent Adnan to prison: Lee, a high school senior, was found half-buried in a Baltimore park on February 9, 1999. A little over a year later, her ex-boyfriend Syed was sentenced to life in prison for her death. The story could have been over there — but in 2014 the wildly popular podcast "Serial" debuted, casting doubts about the fairness of Syed's trial and whether he was really behind Lee's murder. Now, several years later, "The Case Against Adnan Syed" is revealing new aspects of the now-infamous murder case.
While the Syed family didn't make an appearance in the podcast, they do show up early on in the docu-series. It's immediately evident that Adnan's time in prison has taken a severe emotional toll on the family: Adnan's mother, Shamim, even says, "A big part of us died... we thought he was gone forever." His father, Syed Rahman, also appears onscreen, talking about the pain Adnan's imprisonment has caused him and his family. He then refuses to go to court with the rest of the family.
However, that's not because any of them believe he's guilty. As Rabia Chaudry, an attorney, family friend, and advocate of Adnan's, told Oxygen.com, there was never any doubts about Adnan's innocence from his family.
"Oh, God, no, not for anybody who knew Adnan, not at all." She went on to explain Rahman avoids court in general ever since the original trial.
"He’s emotionally, just a very broken man. He's a very timid person, he’s very gentle, he’s very, very sweet. He just became a hermit after Adnan was convicted," Chaudry said.
Indeed, when The Guardian spoke to Shamim and Adnan's brother Yusef in December 2014, the family made it clear just how much of an effect the conviction had on Rahman.
"He spends the whole time in his room," Shamim told The Guardian. When reporter Jon Ronson asked if he was depressed, she told him, "He doesn't believe in depression. That's the problem." When asked if his issues were because of Adnan's imprisonnment, Shamim simply confirmed, "Yes."
And while Shamim and brother Yusef said they listened to the podcast and were happy about it, they noted their father couldn't listen because of his fragile state. "We can't even discuss the topic. Sometimes we see him going through the photo album and he starts crying."
But it's not just because their father pulled away that they feel the family was destroyed by the conviction. Yusef and Shamim also told The Guardian their other brother Tanveer moved away to Philadelphia and was estranged from the family for many years after Adnan was sent to prison. (Tanveer said in a separate Guardian article, his life was "ruined by Adnan getting arrested.")
Yusef told the Guardian he had to stop going to the local mosque for years because too many people would ask him if he thought Adnan was a murderer. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, they explained they all withdrew from the Pakistani Muslim community in Baltimore County because the "stares and whispers" were "too hard to bear."
But as Chaudry explained to Oxygen.com, "It’s Adnan’s mom who just became a sort of pillar of strength." She and Yusef have continued to publicly advocate for Adnan, even going on "CBS This Morning" in November 2014 at the height of "Serial" popularity to reaffirm their belief in his innocence.
They also continued to discuss the emotional damage wreaked by his conviction: "It seems like yesterday. It's hard to think back that I once had a family. It was all taken away," Yusef told CBS. "We are just so thankful the story is out there."
And the attention to Adnan's story has done more than just raise doubts about his conviction; it also apparently brought the family back together somewhat. Yusef told The Guardian Tanveer re-entered their lives after the launch of "Serial." "My older brother Tanveer – who was estranged for 15 years – he came home. When he heard my brother’s voice, it brought back all the memories. He’s visited us three or four times already," Yusef said.
As Yusef explained to The Baltimore Sun, "It kind of brought us back to life."
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