Motion cites former prosecutors withheld death threat to victim before the trial
New evidence suggests alternative suspects with previous rape and sexual assaults acts towards women
Baltimore, Md. (September 14, 2022) - Today, Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Sentencing Review Unit (SRU) Chief Becky Feldman filed a motion to vacate the conviction for Adnan Syed, who was found guilty as a juvenile for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee and sentenced to Life in prison plus 30 years. The motion filed today supports a new trial for Syed based on a nearly year-long investigation that revealed undisclosed and newly-developed information regarding two alternative suspects, as well as unreliable cell phone tower data.
“Since the inception of my administration, my prosecutors have been sworn to not only aggressively advocate on behalf of the victims of crime, but in the pursuit of justice, — when the evidence exists— to correct the wrongs of the past where doubt is evident,” said State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby. “For that reason, after a nearly year-long investigation reviewing the facts of this case, Syed deserves a new trial where he is adequately represented and the latest evidence can be presented. As stewards of the court, we are obligated to uphold confidence in the integrity of convictions and do our part to correct when this standard has been comprised. We have spoken with the family of Ms. Hae Min Lee and fully understand that the person responsible for this heinous crime must be held accountable."
To be clear, the State is not asserting, at this time, that Mr. Syed is innocent. While the investigation remains ongoing, when considering the totality of the circumstances, the State lacks confidence in the integrity of the conviction and requests that Mr. Syed be afforded a new trial.
Mr. Syed’s defense counsel, Erica Suter, Director of the Office of the Public Defender’s and University of Baltimore’s Innocence Project, originally brought the case to the attention of the SRU 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. However, during that review, additional evidence emerged requiring the State to conduct a more in-depth analysis.
“We believe that keeping Mr. Syed detained as we continue to investigate the case with everything that we know now, when we do not have confidence in results of the first trial, would be unjust,” Mosby added.
DNA Testing Pending
As part of the SRU investigation, on March 10, 2022, Chief Becky Feldman and the defense filed a Joint Petition for Post-Conviction DNA Testing of the victim’s clothing. Specifically, the motion requested the clothing tested for touch DNA, which was unavailable at the time of trial. In 2018, the Baltimore City Police Lab tested various items for DNA through an agreement between the Office of the Attorney General and the defendant’s previous counsel. However, the items now being tested were not previously tested in 2018, with the exception of the victim’s fingernail clippings.
After consultation with DNA experts, the team tested the items believed to most likely yield results for touch DNA. Those items were: fingernails, fingernail clippers, pubic hairs, underwear, bra and shirt. The rape kit was also tested for the presence of DNA.
Trace-level male DNA was detected on the victim’s right fingernail swabs, the right fingernail clippers swabs, and the victim’s shirt swabs. The swabs from the right fingernail and shirt were then analyzed with a genotyping kit that targets male Y-chromosome STR DNA. However, no useful typing results were obtained from this analysis. Another shirt swab and the right hand fingernail clippers were not analyzed because it was determined the amount of male DNA was so minimal it would not likely produce any results.
Only female DNA was recovered from pubic hairs, left hand fingernail swabs, left hand fingernail clippers swabs, anal swabs, vaginal swabs, bra swabs, and underwear swabs. The remaining items are currently being reviewed for further testing.
Brady Violation: Evidence Suggest Two New Suspects Not Disclosed to Defense
Further, the re-investigation of the case revealed evidence regarding the possible involvement of two alternative suspects other than Syed. The two suspects may be involved individually or may be involved together. These suspects were known persons at the time of the original investigation and were not properly ruled out nor disclosed to the defense. According to the trial file, the person said “He would make her [Ms. Lee] disappear. He would kill her.” The State cannot disclose their names at this point.
Additionally, the investigation also retrieved a separate document from the original trial file, in which a different person relayed information that can be viewed as a motive for that same suspect to harm the victim. This information about the threat and motives to harm could have provided a basis for the defense and was not disclosed to the trial nor the post-conviction defense counsel.
New information also revealed that one of the suspects was convicted of attacking a woman in her vehicle, and that one of the suspects was convicted of engaging in serial rape and sexual assault.
Moreover, the victim’s car was located directly behind the house of one of the suspect’s family members. Some of this information was available at the time of trial; some of the events occurred after the trial. Due to the on-going investigation, further details will not be provided at this time.
Unreliable Cell Phone Data
Much of Mr. Syed’s original trial hinged on cell phone data records, which corroborated some of Jay Wilds’ testimony regarding Syed’s whereabouts throughout the day. However, the notice on the records specifically advised that the billing locations for incoming calls “would not be considered reliable information for location.” Despite this notice, prosecutors used the billing location for incoming calls for exactly that purpose – to prove that the defendant was in a particular area at a particular time. Most critical to the State’s case were the incoming calls allegedly received in the Leakin Park area at 7:09 PM and 7:16 PM. Eleven of the 32 calls on January 13th were incoming calls.
Evidence proved that the State should not have relied on the incoming call evidence. As part of the investigation, the parties consulted a Digital Forensics Investigator with expertise in Computer Forensics, Mobile Forensics and historical cell site analysis, Gerald Grant, Jr. to explain whether incoming call location evidence call be otherwise reliable. Mr. Grant explained that an incoming call to a mobile device may have the communication signal sent to multiple towers in an area to notify the device of the call. In other words, the network cannot guarantee at the time of the incoming call that it knows exactly what tower/sector the device is listening on.
Based on the cellular technology at the time of the incident in this case, it was possible that an incoming call could be recorded at the last registered tower/sector and not the current one when the signal is sent across multiple towers within an area.
The investigation also had this opinion reviewed and verified by two other experts whose expertise include the development, set up and operation of cellular networks and the operational use of Global System for Mobile Communications to track and locate cell phones.
While the investigative efforts are ongoing, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office will continue to utilize all available resources to investigate this case and bring a suspect or suspects to justice.
If the court grants this motion, it will effectively put Mr. Syed in a new trial status – his convictions will be vacated but the case remains active. Whether the State ultimately continues with a trial in this matter or dismisses the charges will depend on the outcome of the ongoing investigation. The State will be requesting that defendant be released on his own recognizance or bail pending the investigation should this Court grant the instant motion.