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Baltimore prosecutors asked a Maryland magistrate to vacate the judgment Monday afternoon in the case of Adnan Syed, whose decades-old murder conviction garnered renewed interest after it was featured on the “Serial” podcast in 2014.
Judge Melissa Phinn granted the prosecution’s request shortly after 4 pm ET.
Despite a conviction and life sentence, Syed has maintained he is innocent of killing ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, 18, in 1999. Her brother told the court Monday that he was not opposed to release but “felt betrayed” by how prosecutors were handling their review of the case.
Steve Kelly, an attorney for Lee’s family, tore into prosecutors for allegedly giving her brother only two days notice before filing a surprise motion to vacate Syed’s conviction last week.
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The attorney asked the judge to postpone the proceedings for a week to give Young Lee time to travel to Baltimore from the West Coast and be present in person, a motion denied by Phinn.
The judge did give Kelly time to call Lee by phone and ask if he’d like to comment during the proceedings. He asked for 30 minutes to prepare, and the judge ordered a recess.
In an emotional statement, Lee told the judge he was not opposed to Syed’s release because he has faith in the criminal justice system and the court – but he said the motion to vacate “blindsided” him and left him shocked.
“I am not against his release,” he said. “I was kind of blindsided. I always thought that the state was on my side, but out of nowhere I heard that there is a motion to vacate judgment, and I thought honestly, I felt betrayed.”
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He said his mother was also struggling with the news.
“This is not a podcast for me, it’s just real life,” he said, his voice cracking near the end of roughly 4 minutes and 40 seconds of remarks. “Never ending, after 20 plus years… I ask judge that you make the right decision. That’s all your honor.”
Judge denied Kelly a chance to speak again after Lee’s remarks and prosecutors began to walk the court through their motion to vacate.
Prosecutors highlighted several pieces of evidence, including the possibility of additional suspects: one who had allegedly threatened to kill Lee, and one who is linked to an address where Lee’s car was ultimately discovered. They also said the other possible suspects were each convicted of crimes after Lee’s murder.
“We believe this is consequential information that needs to be reviewed further,” Assistant State’s Attorney Becky Feldman told the court.
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Prosecutors said they planned to continue the new investigation into the case and asked the judge not to dismiss the case entirely. They also asked for Syed’s release on his own recognizance for the time being.
The District Attorney’s Office revealed last Wednesday that a year-long review of the case uncovered new evidence, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier.
“The state no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Feldman wrote in a motion to vacate obtained by FOX 5 DC.
The filing, in Baltimore City Circuit Court, revealed new information regarding two other potential suspects and found that DNA testing “yielded mostly inconclusive DNA results or no DNA results.”
“To be clear, the state is not asserting at this time that the defendant is innocent,” the motion reads. “However, for all the reasons set forth below, the state no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction.”
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The “Serial” podcast raised doubts about Syed’s conviction and became the most-downloaded podcast of all time – and the investigation into his claims of innocence led to a hearing in which his attorneys challenged the evidence against him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.