5 Essential Facts You Need To Know About The Adnan Syed Case

From the Serial podcast to a new HBO documentary, Adnan Syed's role in the murder of Hae Min Lee continues to captivate with one question: “Is he guilty or innocent?”

March 08, 2019
Adnan Syed [Baltimore Police Department]

Photo by: Adnan Syed [Baltimore Police Department]

Adnan Syed [Baltimore Police Department]

By: Mike McPadden

With the documentary The Case Against Adnan Syed set to debut soon, the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee has reentered public conversation in a big way.

The series offers an updated look at the crime that became a pop culture phenomenon in 2014 after it was the subject of the massively popular podcast, Serial.

With that in mind, here are five crucial facts to know about the man serving 30 years plus life for killing his teenage girlfriend — even after his original conviction was overturned and a court ordered a new trial.

The Death of Hae Min Lee

On January 13, 1999, 18-year-old student Hae Min Lee left the campus of Baltimore’s Woodlawn High School after classes and was never seen alive again.

The following month, a passerby happed upon Lee’s body, partially buried in nearby Leakin Park. She had been strangled to death.

On February 9, police received an anonymous phone tip implicating Adnan Syed, Lee’s 17-year-old boyfriend, as the killer. Investigators looked into Syed’s cellphone records and brought in two of his contacts: Jay Wilds and Jennifer Pusateri.

While being questioned, Wilds claimed that he helped Syed bury Lee’s body and dispose of her car. Pusateri later said that Wilds told her the same story. The taped interview with Wilds would become the key piece of evidence used in court.

Officers arrested Adan Syed on February 28, 1999 and charged him with first-degree murder. [Baltimore Sun]

The Trials of Adnan Syed

For Syed’s defense, his family hired renowned attorney Cristina Gutierrez. Three days into Syed’s trial, Judge William Charles called Gutierrez a liar and the jury overheard it. As a result, the judge declared a mistrial.

Gutierrez stayed on as Syed’s counsel for his second trial. It lasted six weeks. Syed maintained his innocence, but did not address the courtroom. The new trial ended on February 25, 2000 — almost a year to the day after Syed was arrested — with the defendant found guilty of murder, false imprisonment, and robbery. The judge sentenced Syed to life in prison plus 30 years.

On May 24, 2001, Cristina Gutierrez agreed to be disbarred by the Maryland Court of Appeals. Since Gutierrez agreed to being stripped of her law license, the Attorney Grievance Commission dropped its investigation into complaints from a number of clients that she had not performed work she was hired to do for them.

In 2003, Syed filed a direct appeal that went nowhere. In 2010, he filed an appeal for post conviction relief, citing Cristina Gutierrez as incompetent, particularly in regard to the attorney not contacting Asia McClain, a witness who Syed said supplied him with an alibi. The court initially denied Sayed’s second appeal, but its arguments would be made again in later legal proceedings that worked. [USA Today]

Serial Directs the World’s Attention to a Prison Cell in Baltimore

On October 3, 2014, the investigative journalism podcast Serial debuted on NPR. Hosted by Sarah Koenig, season one of the series focused on the murder of Hae Min Lee and the subsequent conviction of Adnan Syed.

By the time the first season of Serial concluded on December 18, Serial was one of the major cultural happenings of the year. Three months later, it had been downloaded 65 million times. Suddenly, a 15-year-old murder conviction had become one of the hottest crime stories on the planet.

In addition to potential legal upheavals, Serial ignited a massive public hunger for true crime media, some of which directly took on the Lee-Syed case from other angles.

Among the post-Serial onslaught was Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed, a 2015 podcast created in part by Rabia Chaudry, a childhood friend of Syed who became a defense attorney and advocated on his behalf. The following year, Chaudry also authored the book, Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial.

Another book, Confessions of a Serial Alibi by Asia McClain Chapman, was published by the potential witness who Syed said had not gotten her day in court.

In 2016, Investigation Discovery aired Adnan Syed: Innocent or Guilty?, a one-hour investigative special that presented dynamic new examinations of evidence that had been mentioned throughout Serial. [Financial Times]

Syed’s Conviction Was Overturned and He Was Granted a New Trial, But He Remains Locked Up

In the wake of Serial, Adnan Syed started a new appeal process. C. Justin Brown, Syed’s attorney, successfully argued that the state’s cell tower evidence was faulty and should not have been entered into the trial.

The result was a February 2016 post-conviction relief hearing in which McClain testified that she was with Syed at the library during the period when he supposedly attacked Hae Min Lee.

On June 30, 2016, Judge Martin P. Welch vacated Syed’s conviction and granted his request for a new trial. The judge denied bail for Syed, however, ordering him to remain behind bars.

The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the new trial ruling on March 29, 2018. The State challenged that decision, and the Court of Appeals agreed to examine both the State’s argument and that of Syed’s legal team. The Court said it will release its final opinion sometime in or before August 2019. [Refinery 29]

Numerous Online Theories Exist Regarding Hae Min Lee and Andan Syed

Naturally, with a case as high profile as this one, discussions have cropped up all over the internet regarding what might have happened. None of these theories hold any legal weight, of course, but they have sparked countless conversations both on- and offline.

One speculation posits that Lee was pregnant, based on a note entered into evidence that was passed around a class that contained the words, “I’m going to kill.” Some amateur sleuths suggest it was a reference to abortion, although no other known material exists to back up this idea.

Another concept suggests a serial killer named Roy Sharonnie Davis III murdered Lee. According to the Baltimore Sun, Davis had been living nearby when Lee died.

A number of unsubstantiated theories claim there is more to Jay Wilds’ story than has been made public. Some Reddit users have proposed Wilds was cheating on his girlfriend, Stephanie, and that Lee knew it. A number of unfounded claims from there imply that the users think Wilds either committed the crime, or that is was Stephanie.

One especially dedicated Reddit sleuth compiled a list of reasons as to why they think Wilds was perhaps a police informant.

Again, none of these theories have been tested in court and, as such, there is no reason to believe them. Still, the abundance of such chatter points out how captivated the public remains by this case. [CrimeFeed]

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