“After a nearly year-long investigation reviewing the facts of this case, Syed deserves a new trial where he is adequately represented and the latest evidence can be presented,” Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in the statement.
The state will request that Syed be released on his own recognition pending the investigation if the motion to vacate his conviction is granted.
“We believe that keeping Mr. Syed detained as we continue to investigate the case with everything that we know now, when we do not have confidence in results of the first trial, would be unjust,” Mosby said.
In a statement emailed to CNN, spokesperson for the State Attorney’s Office Zy Richardson said the 2 pm hearing is set to discuss the motion, and “the judge can either deny or approve the motion to vacate Syed’s conviction.”
Defense attorneys praised the prosecution’s motion to vacate the conviction as righting a wrong.
“Given the stunning lack of reliable evidence implicating Mr. Syed, coupled with increasing evidence pointing to other suspects, this unjust conviction cannot stand,” Assistant Public Defender Erica Suter, Syed’s attorney and director of the Innocence Project Clinic, said in a statement.
Maryland public defender Natasha Dartigue in a news release called the case “a true example of how justice delayed is justice denied. An innocent man spends decades wrongly incarcerated, while any information or evidence that could help identify the actual perpetrators becomes increasingly difficult to pursue. “
What we know about the case
Adnan and Lee were seniors at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County in January 1999 when she disappeared. Her strangled body was discovered in a city forest three weeks later.
Mosby said prosecutors are “not asserting, at this time, that Mr. Syed is innocent” but that the state “lacks confidence in the integrity of the conviction” and that Syed should get a new trial.
The March motion asked that the victim’s clothing be tested for touch DNA, which was not available at the time of trial. Items now being tested were not previously tested in 2018 — when the Baltimore City Police Lab tested various items for DNA — with the exception of the victim’s fingernail clippings, Mosby’s statement said.
Mosby said the motion to vacate was filed along with Sentencing Review Unit Chief Becky Feldman. Syed was a juvenile when convicted.
The alternative suspects were known persons at the time of the original investigation “and were not properly ruled out nor disclosed to the defense,” according to Mosby’s statement.
The state is not disclosing the names of the suspects but said that, according to the trial file, one of them said, “He would make her [Ms. Lee] disappear. He would kill her.”
The investigation also revealed that one suspect was convicted of attacking a woman in her vehicle, according to the statement. The second suspect was convicted of engaging in serial rape and sexual assault, the statement said.
Some of the information was available at the time of the trial, the statement said, and some came to light later. It is not clear when these assaults took place.
Lee’s car was located “directly behind the house of one of the suspect’s family members,” the statement said.
Attorneys for Syed brought the case to the attention of the sentencing review unit in April 2021.
Syed’s attorneys “identified significant reliability issues regarding the most critical pieces of evidence at trial,” Mosby’s statement said.
At trial, prosecutors relied on testimony from a friend, Jay Wilds, who said he helped Syed dig a hole for Lee’s body. To corroborate his account, prosecutors presented cell phone records and expert witness testimony to place Syed at the site where Lee was buried.