Adnan Syed: Serial podcast key moments and evidence that didn’t stack up

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Fans of the podcast Serial are overjoyed this week amid the news Adnan Syed, who was jailed for life for the murder of ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, would be released after serving more than 20 years.

On Monday, Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn overturned 41-year-old Syed’s sentence and ordered his release. Phinn placed Syed under home detention and ordered him to be monitored by a GPS tracking device, and gave prosecutors 30 days to decide whether to seek a new trial or dismiss the charges against him.

Syed’s case shot into the public sphere in 2014, years after he was convicted of strangling 17-year-old Lee and burying her body in Baltimore’s Leakin Park, with the podcast Serial, which focused on Syed for its first series.

Over 12 episodes we were captivated by Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder as they introduced the world to the 1999 murder of Baltimore student Lee and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Syed, for the crime the following year.

Ultimately, the podcast placed increased pressure on the Maryland state government in regards to Syed’s case and played a part in getting him a new hearing, with a judge granting him a new trial in 2016. However, after years of arguments, the Maryland Court Of Appeals overturned judge Welch’s opinion and rejected the new trial in 2019.

For those catching up on the case amid the release of Syed, though, let us comb through the key moments from the podcast and case that turned the world into armchair detectives.

Syed, here in 2016, was jailed in 2000 (Picture: Getty Images)

Key moments from the podcast and trial you need to know

  • The podcast begins with Rabia Chaudry – the sister of Syed’s friend – contacting Koenig in an effort to get as much media attention as possible on Syed’s case, following rejected appeals.
  • Chaudry’s last-ditch effort came after, on the same day a jury found Syed guilty, they discovered that Syed’s lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, didn’t follow up a signed affidavit from a classmate, Asia McClain, who said they saw Syed in the library at the alleged time of Lee’s murder.
  • The first episode explains how Lee’s body was found in Leakin Park three weeks after she first went missing, by a concrete worker identified only as ‘Mr. S’ who had pulled off the road to go to the toilet.
Hae Min Lee’s body was found in February 1999

  • Her cause of death was ruled manual strangulation.
  • However, soon suspicious circumstances surrounded the discovery of Lee by Mr S, such as prior convictions of indecent exposure as well as the location of the body, which wasn’t close to the roadside. Police ultimately cleared Mr S.
  • Syed’s classmate Jennifer Pusateri is interviewed by police in which she told investigators another classmate Jay Wilds told her Syed said he strangled Lee. During an interview with detectives, Wilds tells them Syed showed him Lee’s body, while also claiming Syed enlisted his help in digging a hole to bury Lee, before leading police to Lee’s car.
    In February 1999 Syed is arrested and charged.
Adnan Syed was charged with Lee’s murder (Picture: HBO)

  • The podcast goes on to chart Lee and Syed’s relationship, with the pair apparently forbidden from dating by their strict parents, before embarking on a secret romance.
  • In diary entries, Lee described Syed as a sweet boyfriend, which was backed up by her friends who, in interviews after her death, noted the pair were in love.
  • Lee broke up with Syed in November 1998 (they got back together two weeks later before breaking up in late December). Lee started dating a Lenscrafters co-worker called Don on January 1.
  • Syed was soon painted as a jilted boyfriend who wanted to kill Lee for breaking up with him – a suggestion he vehemently disputed.
  • After several more interviews, Wilds signs an agreement pleading guilty to accessory after the fact of the first-degree murder of Lee.
  • In December 1999 Syed’s first trial is ruled a mistrial by the judge. In June 2000, after his second trial, Syed is convicted of the murder of Lee and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.

Key points of evidence that didn’t stack up

  • Wilds’ story about the events of January 13 changed over time, for instance, Wilds said Syed showed him Lee’s body in the trunk of her car in a parking lot, before later admitting that was a lie and instead claimed he saw her body outside his grandmother’s house.
  • A main point of key evidence questioned and revised in the retrial rested on the alibi from Syed’s classmate which was never followed up, as well as the inability of Syed’s team to challenge the evidence based on the location of cell tower ‘pings’ which ‘placed him at the scene’.
  • According to prosecutors, AT&T records placed Syed’s phone in or around Baltimore’s Leakin Park on Lee’s disappearance. Her body would later be found in the park by Mr S.
  • However, in small type on the cover letter of the records faxed to Baltimore Police, AT&T stated ‘Outgoing calls only are reliable for location status. Any incoming calls will NOT be considered reliable information for location.’
  • Syed’s attorney, C Justin Brown, filed a motion that said this disclaimer from the company should have barred prosecutors from using the records as evidence.
  • Judge Welch agreed Syed’s original lawyer Gutierrez had not represented him adequately after failing to cross-examine a government expert on the reliability of the records pertaining to the ‘pings’.
  • In HBO series The Case Against Adnan Syed, it was said additional DNA samples taken from Lee’s body and car, as well as fingerprints taken from the car’s rear-vision mirror, in 2019, didn’t match Syed.
  • In addition to new evidence, Maryland State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said that the prosecution may have failed to disclose information to Syed’s defense – including the fact that investigators failed to rule out two additional suspects.
  • One of the suspects was convicted of attacking a woman, and the other was convicted of serial rape and sexual assault, the State’s Attorney said.
  • Prosecutors also did not disclose that one of the suspects sent Lee a threatening text message just before her murder, telling her ‘he would make her disappear. He would kill her.’

Following yesterday’s update, it was announced the Serial podcast will return with a new episode.

A tweet from Serial, linking the news of Syed’s release, said: ‘Sarah [Koenig, podcast host] was at the courthouse when Adnan was released, a new episode is coming tomorrow morning.’

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