Adnan Syed Out of Prison: What’s Next for the Serial Podcast Subject

Adnan Syed, subject of the first season of the popular Serial podcast, was released from prison on Monday, after a judge vacated his 2000 conviction for the murder of his former high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn vacated the murder, kidnapping, robbery and false imprisonment convictions against Syed and ordered him released without bail. 

Here are the basics, as well as what comes next. 

What’s the Serial connection?

In the fall of 2014, there was no hotter podcast than Serial. In fact, it was Serial that taught many people what a podcast even was. Serial is an investigative podcast developed by This American Life, and co-created and produced by Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder. It won a Peabody Award in 2015. The show’s later seasons have focused on other topics, and none have caught the nation’s interest in the same way as the first season, which focused on Syed’s murder conviction.

Who’s Adnan Syed?

Syed is now 41, but he was just a teenager when he was convicted of his former girlfriend’s murder. As Serial pointed out, there were numerous issues with the case.

What were some of the problems with the case?

Syed’s attorney, Cristina Guitierrez, was disbarred voluntarily in 2001 and died in 2004. The court concluded the trial was flawed because the state failed to disclose key evidence. Prosecutors failed to properly turn over evidence that could’ve allowed for “substantial and significant probability that the result would have been different,” Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn said, according to a report from NBC News.

What happens to Syed next?

Prosecutors now have 30 days to decide whether to move forward with a new trial or drop the charges. Syed has been ordered to serve home detention in the meantime, and must wear a GPS monitor. 

Syed was photographed leaving the Baltimore courthouse to the cheers of supporters.

He didn’t speak to press upon his release, but The Baltimore Sun reports that his attorney, Erica Suter, recalled her client telling her after the judge’s ruling that “he couldn’t believe it’s real.”

What about Hae Min Lee’s family?

Syed’s supporters may be relieved, but the release doesn’t mean Hae Min Lee’s murder is solved. Her brother, Young Lee, who lives in California, had asked Phinn to postpone the hearing about overturning Syed’s conviction for one week, so he could attend in person. That request was denied, with the judge saying that sufficient notice was given, and allowing instead a half-hour delay so Young Lee could join virtually.

When he did, he told the court he felt blindsided and betrayed, according to The Baltimore Sun.

“This is not a podcast for me,” he said. “This is real life.”

He went on to say he respects the criminal justice system and isn’t against further investigation, but that he believes Syed’s conviction should stand.

“Every day when I think it’s over … it always comes back,” he said, according to the Sun. “It’s killing me.”

Will Serial offer an update?

Yes, the podcast released a brand-new episode on Tuesday outlining the latest developments. That episode also ran on New York Times podcast The Daily. The Times bought Serial Productions, the production company behind Serial, for about $25 million in 2020.

The most interesting thing about the new Serial episode? Koenig shared that there were handwritten notes found in the case files discussing phone calls about a potential alternate suspect who reportedly had a motive to kill Hae Min Lee and even made threats to do so. The information was never shared with Syed’s attorney. 

In fact, the state’s motion says it has developed more information about two suspects who aren’t named, but who might’ve been involved and who weren’t properly ruled out. Both were known to detectives at the time. Serial didn’t name the suspects, but Koenig said she knows who they are. However, Koenig said in the podcast that she doubts the state will want to retry Syed. 

As Koenig points out in the new episode, the new information doesn’t solve the case or lay out an alternate theory of who killed Hae Min Lee. It just points out flaws in Syed’s case. For now, the mystery of who took a young girl’s life back in 1999 remains just that, a mystery.