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Appellate Court Reinstates Killer’s Conviction After Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby Had Judge Vacate It

Baltimore, MD – A Maryland appellate court has vacated the get-out-of-jail free pass that Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby gave a convicted murderer last year, giving the victim’s family a chance to fight claims he was wrongly convicted.

The appellate court ruled 2-1 on March 28 that a lower court violated the rights of the victim’s brother by failing to adequately notify him of his right to attend a key hearing that resulted in the charges against the suspect, Adnan Syed, being vacated, CNN reported.

The case at the center of the decision involves the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, who was last seen alive at Woodlawn High School on Jan. 13, 1999, The Daily Record reported.

Hae Min Lee’s body was discovered in Leakin Park several weeks after her disappearance.

She had been strangled to death, according to police.

Her ex-boyfriend, Syed, was convicted of Hae Min Lee’s murder and sentenced to life in prison, plus 30 years.

He remained behind bars until last year, when Mosby’s office asked the court to vacate his conviction, The Daily Record reported.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn subsequently granted the motion to vacate, according to CNN.

Syed, now 41, was released from prison on Sept. 19, 2022.

The appellate court reinstated Syed’s conviction on Tuesday after determining the lower court violated the rights of Hae Min Lee’s brother, Young Lee, CNN reported.

Young Lee, who watched last year’s hearing via Zoom, argued Mosby’s office did not give him adequate notice for him to attend the proceedings in person.

He also accused prosecutors of withholding evidence from his family and not giving him a proper chance to be heard during the hearing, CNN reported.

“The victim, or victim’s representative… has a right to be heard,” David Sanford, the attorney representing the Lee family, told the appellate court in February.

“Because the circuit court violated Mr. Lee’s right to notice of, and his right to attend, the hearing on the State’s motion to vacate… this Court has the power and obligation to remedy those violations, as long we can do so without violating Mr. Syed’s right to be free from double jeopardy,” the appellate court’s ruling said.

“We remand for a new, legally compliant, and transparent hearing on the motion to vacate, where Mr. Lee is given notice of the hearing that is sufficient to allow him to attend in person, evidence supporting the motion to vacate is presented, and the court states its reasons in support of its decision,” the judges added.

Sanford said the court’s decision will provide an opportunity to have more eyes on the process and the prosecution’s claims, CNN reported.

“We are equally pleased that the Appellate Court is directing the lower court to conduct a transparent hearing where the evidence will be presented in open court and the court’s decision will be based on evidence for the world to see,” Sanford said in a statement.

Innocence Project Clinic Director Erica Suter, who is Syed’s attorney, said the appellate court’s decision to reinstate her client’s conviction needlessly re-traumatizes him and said she is confident the charge will again be dismissed, CNN reported.

Suter noted the court reinstated the conviction “not because the Motion to Vacate was erroneous, but because Ms. Lee’s brother did not appear in person at the vacatur hearing.”

“We agree with the dissenting judge that the appeal is moot and that Mr. Lee’s attendance over Zoom was sufficient,” she added. “There is no basis for re-traumatizing Adnan by returning him to the status of a convicted felon. For the time being, Adnan remains a free man.”

Suter said she intends to ask the Maryland Supreme Court to review the case, and vowed she will “continue to fight until Adnan’s convictions are fully vacated,” CNN reported.

Now-former Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh blasted Mosby’s decision to vacate the murder conviction last year and vehemently denied her claims that his office withheld evidence that resulted in the suspect being “wrongfully convicted.”

Prosecutors said they lost faith in Syed’s conviction after Mosby’s head of the Sentencing Review Unit, Becky Feldman, discovered handwritten notes in the original prosecutor’s file indicating that another possible suspect who allegedly threatened to kill Hae Min Lee was never ruled out, according to The Daily Record.

Those notes were written by prosecutor Kevin Urick, but Mosby’s office didn’t bother to interview Urick about the issue before filing the motion to vacate Syed’s conviction.

The filing further questioned the reliability of cell phone location evidence that was crucial in Syed’s conviction, as well as the trustworthiness of a witness who testified that he had helped Syed bury Hae Min Lee’s body in Leakin Park, The Daily Record reported.

Mosby’s office also accused the Maryland Attorney General’s Office of violating Brady v. Maryland, which requires prosecutors to hand over any exculpatory evidence to defense, according to the paper.

Frosh said his office never attempted to withhold evidence.

“Neither State’s Attorney Mosby nor anyone from her office bothered to consult with either the Assistant State’s Attorney who prosecuted the case or with anyone in my office regarding these alleged violations,” he said in a statement to The Daily Record. “The file in this case was made available on several occasions to the defense.”

Hae Min Lee’s family was given just two days’ notice about a hearing that took place as a result of Mosby’s office’s motion to vacate Syed’s conviction, CBS News reported.

Her brother appeared via Zoom for the hearing and begged the court repeatedly to “make the right decision,” according to WBAL.

The judge subsequently vacated Syed’s conviction.

Hae Min Lee’s family filed an appeal over how the case was handled, but their opportunity for a hearing was blocked after Mosby’s office swooped in and dropped all charges against Syed due to him supposedly being cleared by new DNA evidence, WBAL reported.

The charges were officially dropped on Oct. 12, 2022, according to CBS News.

Frosh filed paperwork with the court later that month denouncing the way Mosby’s office handled the case and how they treated Hae Min Lee’s family, WBAL reported.

He further argued that his office did not withhold evidence, and noted prosecutors did not present any evidence to back up their bold claim to the contrary.

Frosh said Mosby’s office cherry-picked information contained in Urick’s notes, and that they disregarded other notes that were consistent with the incriminating evidence against Syed, The Daily Record reported.

“It is hard to imagine how anyone could conduct a neutral and unbiased investigation without asking Mr. Urick for his recollections surrounding the notes,” Assistant Attorney General Carrie Williams wrote in the filing.

Frosh’s office also questioned Mosby’s prior declaration that DNA evidence recovered from Hae Min Lee’s shoes helped clear Syed’s name, The Daily Record reported.

The shoes had not previously been tested, and the DNA evidence found on them did not come back to Syed.

“Ms. Mosby did not offer any evidence that the perpetrator handled Ms. Lee’s shoes or provide any other reason to believe that the absence of Mr. Syed’s DNA on Ms. Lee’s shoes exonerated him,” Williams wrote.

The attorney general’s filing is related to the appeal filed by Hae Min Lee’s brother regarding how Mosby’s office treated his family during the process of vacating Syed’s conviction and will not change the outcome of the vacated conviction itself, The Daily Record reported.

The Attorney General’s Office does not have the authority to reverse decisions made by Mosby’s office.

Mosby issued a statement last year defending her handling of the matter and blaming Frosh’s office for what had transpired, WBAL reported.

“Attorney General Brian Frosh and his office mishandled and sat on exculpatory evidence for years and his recent attempts to save face are a complete disservice to the family of Hae Min Lee and to Adnan Syed who was wrongfully incarcerated for 23 years,” the statement read. “We stand by our investigation and our ultimate finding that there is no credible evidence that Mr. Syed was involved in the death of Ms. Lee.”

“It is extremely troubling that the attorney general, who is clearly biased and is in self-preservation mode to protect himself as well as the original prosecutor and post-conviction attorney in the case, is legally asserting that prosecutors don’t have to disclose to the defense an alternative suspect that threatens to kill the victim because the person reporting the threat was not sure if the threat was serious or not,” Mosby added.

“The problem is that the attorney general’s argument is completely contrary to the law and is the reason why a judge rightfully concluded that it was a Brady violation,” she wrote.

Frosh has pushed for the handwritten notes to be made public, but Mosby said doing so could compromise the ongoing investigation into Hae Min Lee’s murder, The Daily Record reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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