Baltimore, MD

Podcast Sheds New Light and Man Convicted of Murder Released After 23 Years in Prison

True Crime Mysteries (Megan)

Highschool student Hae Min Lee was murdered in 1999, and newly tested DNA evidence points to a new suspect
Hae Min LeePhoto byImage courtesy of Baltimore police

Now, this case isn’t solved yet, but the podcast Serial led to enough to reexamine the case and release the previously convicted suspect, Adnan Syed. His original trial was deemed unconstitutional because the prosecution had withheld critical information from his defense.

It was January 13, 1999, when Hae Min Lee left Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland. The eighteen-year-old was supposed to pick up her cousin from daycare at 3:15 PM and then meet up with the wrestling team she helped to coach at their competition, and she never arrived at either location.

Her parents reported her missing later that evening, and a search began for her immediately. Law enforcement contacted her friends, and no one had seen her after she left campus that afternoon, around 2:15.

Her current boyfriend, as well as her ex-boyfriend, were also both contacted, and neither said they had heard from her.

Initially, it was believed that Hae had gone to California to see her father, as that was something she had been talking about a lot recently. Hae came from an immigrant family that had a modest, strict, and religious outlook on life and one that stood out in stark contrast to her American friends.

She kept a lot of secrets from her family. She dated when she wasn’t supposed to. She went to parties and wasn’t always honest about where she was, but you could probably say that about most teenagers. Hae was a good kid. She worked a part-time job, kept excellent grades, and had a tight group of friends that were also good kids. Hae was an athlete. She played Lacross, coached wrestling, and was in the school’s ecology club, French club, and others.

She was described as a leader whose happiness was infectious and who was always willing to lend a hand. She had a heart of gold. She worked hard and always gave her best at everything she did. She wanted to become an optician and worked at LensCrafters after school.

Hae was extremely responsible, and it had been unusual for her to go anywhere without telling someone she was going. Her disappearance had been highly unusual. What made her disappearance so confusing was that her car was also missing, and it truly seemed as though she had just driven off.

Weeks went by with little headway in the investigation into Hae’s disappearance. Almost a month later, a body was discovered in Leakin Park, an area in Baltimore notorious for dumping bodies. The body was of a young woman, half buried in a shallow grave.

The body was later identified as Hae Min Lee. Her cause of death was determined to have been strangulation, and there had been no evidence of sexual assault. She was found wearing the clothing she had last been seen in. Experts determined she had been murdered the day she went missing, shortly after she had left school that day.

After Hae’s body was discovered, the Baltimore City Police received an anonymous call to look into Jay Wilds. Detectives picked him up. He had a minor criminal history of possession but was friends with one of their lead suspects, Hae’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed.

After a couple of interviews, Jay eventually confessed that he had first-hand knowledge that Adnan had killed Hae. He claimed that Adnan had told him he was going to murder Hae in a jealous rage and that Adnan had shown him Hae’s body in the trunk of his car. He said Adnan blackmailed him into helping him dispose of Hae’s body in Leakin Park.

Adnan was arrested and maintained his innocence. He claimed he hadn’t seen Hae after she left school that day. He said that he had seen Jay that day because Jay had borrowed his car. Law enforcement used cellphone records to back up Jay’s rendition of events, but that had evolved several times over the years.

Adnan was arrested and charged with Hae’s murder on February 28, 1999.

The following year, Adnan went to trial. His lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, represented him. Gutierrez was known as a good lawyer. However, during Adnan’s trial, she was dealing with some medical issues that may have impacted her performance. A key piece of information that could have changed the trial’s outcome was a witness who backed up Adnan’s alibi when law enforcement believed that Hae had been murdered. The witness had come forward, but it had never been followed up on with Gutierrez.

Adnan was eventually convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, thirty-plus years for the murder of Hae Min Lee, despite no concrete evidence connecting him to the crime. It had been Jay’s confession that had sealed his fate with the jury.

Jay had been given immunity for cooperation with the prosecution, and we know that the lead detectives, in this case, knew Jay was a drug dealer because he admitted so in his confession. Still, he was never charged with anything relating to those crimes either.
Adnan Syed after releasePhoto by(Image courtesy of The Guardian)

Adnan was seventeen-years-old when he first went to prison and spent twenty-three years there. He and Hae had dated on and off for two years, but the couple had broken up months before she disappeared. He had always claimed that they had both moved on by January. She was dating a coworker he was also dating. He had met her new boyfriend, and he thought he was a nice guy. The two were still friends, and he had always claimed no animosity toward her.

Hae’s diaries appeared to echo that same sentiment. They had seemed to be on good terms following the breakup.

DNA evidence had been collected and tested, but the results were never brought up in the trial, nor had the results been revealed to Adnan’s council. Hae had tissue under her fingernails, which didn’t belong to Adnan or Jay, but that had never been brought up during the trial.

DNA found on her neck also didn’t belong to Adnan. A palm print had been found on Hae’s car that belonged to him, but that wasn’t unusual. Adnan had been in and out of Hae’s car numerous times, but that palm print had been presented at court.

The Serial podcast began covering Hae’s murder in 2014, focusing primarily on the person convicted, Adnan Syed. The podcast host, Sarah Koenig, had spent over a year studying the case and interviewing Adnan.

Sarah had brought the case to the Innocence Project, who jumped in to take a deeper look at the evidence used to convict. It was the Innocence Project that was able to bring to light that the DNA evidence found on Hae’s body had never matched Adnan.

On September 15, 2022, the Baltimore District Attorney brought forward a motion to vacate Adnan’s conviction. Citing Brady violation from prosecutors who initially worked on the case. A Brady violation is when the prosecution is determined to purposely withhold evidence from the other side, meaning Adnan’s legal team didn’t get all of the evidence and, therefore, couldn’t effectively defend him.

With Adnan’s conviction being vacated, the courts said his conviction didn’t meet the legal threshold to uphold that conviction. Even if he had pleaded guilty, it would have been dismissed.

Adnan was released the day his conviction was vacated, and Baltimore City Police have stated that a suspect who had been previously known to the original investigation is now being looked into, but they are not announcing who that is at this time.

While we still don’t know exactly who killed Hae Min Lee, had Serial not covered this case, we would never have known many details about this conviction that was so wrong. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial.

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