The story of convicted murderer Adnan Syed on the first season Serial proved to be a pivotal point in podcasting’s history. It crossed into the mainstream and opened the medium up to millions of Americans for the first time. Now eight years later, Syed’s legal case is continuing with an unexpected twist.
Baltimore prosecutors on Thursday agreed to go along with a motion filed by Syed’s attorney seeking to use updated DNA testing technology to retest some of the evidence used to convict him. Syed has maintained his innocence through the years and his attorneys hope to convince the judge to require the Baltimore City Police Lab to retest what it collected at the 1999 crime scene of the murder of Hae Min Lee. That includes clothing, shoes as well as hairs found near Lee’s body.
“Mr. Syed’s defense counsel approached our Sentencing Review Unit regarding Mr. Syed’s case after the Juvenile Restoration Act passed in April 2021, which allows persons convicted of crimes as juveniles to request a modification of sentence after they have served at least 20 years in prison,” said Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. “In the process of reviewing this case for a possible resentencing, it became clear that additional forensic testing - which was not available at the time of the original investigation and trial in this case - would be an appropriate avenue to pursue,” she said in a statement.
Syed, now 41, was Lee’s ex-boyfriend. He was convicted in 2000 of killing Lee, and burying her body in a Baltimore park. He’s currently serving a life sentence. During the Serial podcast it was suggested that another man, Ronald Lee Moore, may have instead been the murderer.
Police in Myrtle Beach, SC said in 2020 that Moore’s DNA was found on towels and a bedspread at the condo where another woman was found strangled. Some DNA also was on the 23-year old’s clothing. Police say when the cold case was reopened in November 2017, they put the evidence into a database and it returned a match for Moore. He lived in Maryland at the time of Lee’s killing, but they speculate he may have been in Myrtle Beach on his way to Louisiana to visit friends.
Moore died in a Louisiana prison in 2008 while being held on unrelated charges.
Syed’s attorneys filed a series of appeals based on the argument that his now-deceased trial attorney violated Syed’s constitutional right to counsel since she failed to contact an alibi witness. But in Nov. 2019 the Supreme Court rejected a petition asking he be given a new trial.
It was Serial’s investigation into Syed’s case that brought a fresh review of the trial and conviction. The 2014 podcast, hosted by Sarah Koenig, was downloaded 300 million times. It was also a break-out moment for podcasters everywhere as the medium suddenly attracted widespread attention and helped spur the past five years of growth.
It has also spawned a television show. Last spring HBO aired a four-part documentary series about Syed’s case. “The Case Against Adnan Syed” was created by documentary filmmaker Amy Berg. She described herself as a “fanatical listener” to the Serial podcast.
Serial, which was acquired by the New York Times in 2020 for $25 million, has been downloaded more than 175 million times. Serial Productions was created in 2017 by Sarah Koenig, Julie Snyder and Ira Glass three years after Serial was born as a side project to their work at the WBEZ Chicago-based radio show “This American Life.”