BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The trial of Adnan Syed is one of Maryland’s most known cases, gaining international attention after he became the subject of the Serial podcast and more recently an HBO documentary. The case, centered at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, followed the 1999 disappearance and murder of Hae Min Lee, Syed’s ex-girlfriend.
Syed was convicted of her murder, but since then there’s growing doubt of his guilt. The reasons why were examined in a worldwide podcast and the HBO series, The Case Against Adnan Syed.
For decades it’s been a rollercoaster of lower courts ruling in favor of a new trial and higher courts overturning those decisions.
Syed’s lawyer is now hoping the Supreme Court will take a look at his client’s case.
WJZ got exclusive interviews with the attorney leading the charge and the Syed’s devastated family.
“Every day we are hoping for the best,” Shamim Rahman, Syed’s mother, said.
Every day Rahman cries, missing her son and what her happy family once was.
Vic Carter: In those moments when you think about what has transpired from the beginning to now, how would you describe what your life has been like?
Rahman: We don’t have no life. We are not like a normal family anymore.
But that wasn’t always the case, Syed was a stellar student, an athlete who shared a forbidden love with his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee.
Both of their parents disapproved for religious reasons, and the secret romance ended.
On January 13, 1999, Lee disappeared. Her body was found nearly a month later — on February 9, 1999, buried in the Leakin Park in Baltimore City.
Police built a case against Syed, largely on the testimony of a man named Jay Wilds, who at the time had more than 20 run-ins with police — including aggravated assault against a former girlfriend.
Wilds struck a deal and claimed that Syed asked him to help bury Hae Min’s body. He quickly became the centerpiece of their case, despite changing his testimony multiple times. While Wilds pled guilty to accessory after the fact, he served no time. Wilds is a free man who now lives in California.
“The police didn’t do their job. They pointed everything to him. They painted a narrative and they didn’t consider anyone else,” Syed’s brother Yusuf said.
The family also said a key alibi witness was never called to testify in Syed’s defense. Asia McClain insists Syed was in the library with her at the time police claim Hae Min was murdered. McClain wrote to Syed while he was in jail.
“I’m am not sure if you remember talking with me in the library on January 13 – but I remember chatting with you,” McClain reads in the HBO documentary. “Depending on the amount of time that we spent in the library that afternoon it might help your defense.”
But this and other facts were ignored by Syed’s lawyer at the time, Christina Gutierrez, who was later disbarred and died in 2004.
Years later, in attorney C. Justin Brown‘s Baltimore office, there are volumes of files, most of which chronicle key factors for consideration of a new trial for Syed, including:
- There is no DNA evidence linking Syed to Hae Min’s murder
- The alibi witness Asia McClain
- Cell phone records do no place Syed at the scene
- The key witness for the state has a long criminal record and his story changed on multiple occasions.
But despite two Maryland courts ruling that Syed should get a new trial, the state’s highest court reversed itself.
“So now there is only one place for you to go,” Brown said. “Right now the next step is to petition to the Supreme Court.”
“To see that we have come so far and for so many other judges and other courts to say this guy deserves a new trial,” Brown continued. “We’re not asking anyone to set him free. We’re asking for a new trial.”
It is even more devastating for the Syed family, who want nothing more than justice for him. Their family is torn apart. Syed’s father quit work and has become a recluse, staying in his room, coming out only to go to prayer at a local mosque. He made a rare appearance during our interview, quickly exiting the house. His health and that of Syed’s mother at times failing.
Carter: But even though he is going through this he still goes to prayer?
Rahman: “That’s the only thing that keeps him alive. It keeps all of us alive: our faith in God.”
Everyone involved in this case readily acknowledges that a life was lost and Hae Min Leee’s family is suffering as well.
The Syeds want justice for her as much as they do their son.
For weeks while preparing this story we have made repeated requests for prosecutors to talk with us about this case. They have refused Hae Min Lee’s family also has declined interviews.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh offered this statement to WJZ: “This is an ongoing case, hence, as is our policy, we cannot comment. But, the Court of Appeals’ most recent decision clearly outlines the reasons his appeal was denied, presenting all the evidence that upholds his conviction.”
In the meantime attorneys for Syed admit that their push for consideration at the Supreme Court is a long shot, but one they think is well worth trying.
If you would like to read the entire Maryland Court of Appeals ruling, click here.
Watch more clips from the interview with Syed’s family below: