Lawyers for the family of Hae Min Lee, the Baltimore high school girl whose murder was profiled on the hit podcast “Serial,” asked appellate judges on Thursday to reinstate a murder conviction against the man once blamed for her slaying.
A three-judge panel of the Appellate Court of Maryland heard arguments from lawyers on both sides of the case involving Adnan Syed, who was once convicted of the 1999 killing of Lee, his former girlfriend.
He was released from prison last year after prosecutors and a judge sided with Syed’s advocates, who have long claimed that the defendant’s conviction was flawed.
Lee’s loved ones argued they were not properly notified about the Sept. 19 hearing that led to Syed’s release.
The victim’s brother Young Lee, who has acted as the immigrant family’s representative in this case, said he was only told by email on Sept. 16 about that crucial hearing.
He could not make it Maryland from California on such short notice.
“What would be the remedy that you would ask upon us if we were to agree with you?” Judge Stuart Berger asked during a dramatic crescendo of the hourlong proceeding in Annapolis. “What would happen to Mr. Syed in your scenario?”
“The case would have to be reinstated,” Lee’s attorney, Steve Kelly, responded.
“So you’re asking us to reinstate the conviction?” Berger pushed.
“Yes, your honor, which I believe you have the right to do,” Kelly said.
But Erica Suter, an attorney for Syed, argued Lee’s family had no specific right under the law to play an active, in-person role in the hearing that led to her client’s release.
“What the victim has is a right of information, and a right to not be caught off guard as to what is happening,” Suter told judges. “This is not an environment in which their impact should be influencing the court’s decision.”
Suter said the brother getting such short notice, leading to his inability appear in person, didn’t blatantly violate any procedure.
“I think we would be in different circumstances if the state did not provide Mr. Lee a Zoom option. But we are in very different times now,” Suter said.
“At this point we do hearings on Zoom, we do them hybrid, we do them in person. There would be a different argument if the state did not take steps to facilitate his attendance, but they did.”
In that September hearing, City Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn vacated the murder conviction of Syed, years after the hit podcast “Serial” chronicled his case and cast doubt on his role in Lee’s killing.
Trial prosecutors did not properly turn over evidence to defense lawyers that could have helped them show someone else might have killed Lee, Syed’s advocates have said.
Phinn vacated murder, kidnapping, robbery and false imprisonment convictions against Syed and ordered him released.
The judges on Thursday adjourned, took the case under advisement and did not issue an immediate decision from the bench.
Since his release after 23 years behind bars, Syed has been hired by Georgetown University to work on prison reform.