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Freed of the Shackles

Posted 11/03/2022 by Akaash Raghunath

After having his murder conviction overturned, 41 year old Adnan Syed exits the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse and steps into a new life, smiling and waving at the surrounding crowd. photo courtesy of Reuters

After serving 23 years in prison, Adnan Syed’s murder conviction is overturned as the now 41 year old man is cleared of all charges.

In February of 1999, a Korean American high school student named Hae Min Lee was found dead in Leakin Park, a recreational area in Baltimore County, Maryland. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Masud Syed, was accused of her murder and was sentenced to life in jail. Fifteen years later, in 2014, a podcast known as Serial hit the scene, garnering newfound attention for the case. Another eight years passed with no further development until, suddenly, in October of 2022, all charges were dropped and – after 23 years served in prison – Syed was finally considered a free man.

Serial, hosted by journalist Sarah Koenig, ran for 13 episodes and depicted her tribulations as she hunted for the truth. The podcast was framed from a third person perspective, following Koenig as she scoured Baltimore County for information that could lead her in the right direction. The podcast ultimately ended inconclusively, with no real evidence for nor against Syed. Despite this, many listeners thoroughly enjoyed the podcast. Jonathan Howard, a photography and web design instructor at Thomas Jefferson High School, stated that, “It was presented not in a way that was condemning of police officers, detectives, or the system… It was presented in a way that showed that life is complicated. Situations are complicated.”

On October 11, 2022, prosecutors suddenly announced that they were dropping all charges against Syed. This shocking development occurred 23 years after the initial accusation, and seemed to be based on recent technological improvements relating mainly to DNA analysis. When asked about Syed’s release, Alexa Tsvetkov, a TJ junior, mentioned, “I was really shocked at first, and kind of confused, because there had never been much of a resolution to his case.” According to Emily Davies and Omari Daniels with the Washington Post, a number of Hae Min Lee’s possessions were tested for potentially containing DNA. While many of her garments came up empty, several different DNA samples were discovered on Lee’s shoes. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the DNA belonged to multiple individuals – none of whom could be identified as Syed. Marilyn Mosby, an attorney for the Baltimore City State, mentioned that the future of Syed’s case would likely hinge on these results. She was soon proven correct.

After Syed was finally released, prosecutors mentioned that they had identified several new suspects, although the nature of these people has remained undisclosed. According to the Baltimore Sun, the state of Maryland also grants compensation to any person wrongfully imprisoned based on how many years they were incarcerated. Because of this, Syed could be granted a payout of up to 2.2 million dollars.

Despite this, Syed now walks a difficult path after being forced back out into society following 23 long years in prison. Being jailed at only 18 in 1999, Syed must now navigate modern society with little real world experience and a severely limited education. And things haven’t been much easier for Hae’s family. With Syed cleared of her murder, the search for her killer is back to square one, and with the case revived, doors thought previously closed may be opened once again. Though the case continues to develop and Syed once again walks free, Hae’s killer still remains ominously unknown, and her family may run into difficulties in finding closure.