Murder of Hae Min Lee

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Hae Min Lee
Hae Min Lee.jpg
BornOctober 15, 1980[1]
DisappearedJanuary 13, 1999(1999-01-13) (aged 18)
Died
Cause of deathManual strangulation
Body discoveredFebruary 9, 1999
in Leakin Park
OccupationHigh school student
Known forMurder victim
Subject of Serial

Hae Min Lee (Hangul이해민; October 15, 1980 – c. January 13, 1999) was a Korean-American high school senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland, United States, who disappeared on January 13, 1999. Her body was found four weeks later in Leakin Park, the victim of murder by manual strangulation. Adnan Syed (Urdu: عدنان سید‎), her ex-boyfriend, was convicted in February 2000 of first-degree murder and given a life sentence plus 30 years. Syed has insisted for two decades that he is innocent.[2][3][4]

Lee's murder initially only generated local interest until it became the subject of the first season of the podcast Serial in 2014, which brought international attention to the crime and to Syed's trial; bringing the conviction into question.[5] In July 2016, Judge Martin P. Welch vacated Syed's conviction and ordered a new trial.[6] On March 29, 2018, Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision to grant Syed a new trial.[7] This decision was overturned by the Maryland Court of Appeals on March 8, 2019.[8]

Background[edit]

Hae Min Lee was born in South Korea in 1980 and emigrated with her mother Youn Kim and her brother Young Lee to the United States in 1992 to live with her grandparents.[9] Lee attended the magnet program at Woodlawn High School near Baltimore, Maryland.[10] She was an athlete who played lacrosse and field hockey.[11]

Lee disappeared on January 13, 1999. Her family reported her missing after she failed to pick up her younger cousin from daycare around 3:15 p.m. Lee had attended Woodlawn High School that day and had been seen by several people leaving the campus at the end of the school day.

On February 9, Hae's partially buried body was discovered by a passerby in Leakin Park in Baltimore.[12] On February 12, the Baltimore City Police Homicide Division received an anonymous phone call suggesting that Lee's ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was responsible for her murder.[13] Investigators learned that Lee and Syed had dated for much of the previous year but had recently broken up. On February 16, Baltimore Police applied for call records and "13 cell site locations" for a cell phone belonging to Syed.[14] From this call log, police found Jay Wilds.

The investigating officers subsequently questioned Wilds, who initially denied any involvement. In a later taped police interview, Wilds confessed to helping Syed bury Lee's body and dispose of her car. Wilds frequently seemed to lose his way during the interview, only to be rescued by knocking or tapping sounds. After the sounds were heard, Wilds would remember what had happened.[15][16]

Syed was arrested on February 28, 1999, and charged with first-degree murder.[17]

Trials and appeals[edit]

Syed's family hired defense attorney Cristina Gutierrez to represent him. During Syed's first trial, jurors accidentally overheard a sidebar dispute between Gutierrez and the presiding judge in which the judge referred to Gutierrez as a "liar".[18] After learning that the jury had heard his characterization, the judge declared a mistrial. A second trial lasted six weeks and Syed was found guilty of first degree murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and robbery on February 25, 2000.[19] Syed was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.[20]No physical evidence linked Syed to the crime.[3]

Syed made a direct appeal in 2003 which was unsuccessful, and later made an appeal for post conviction relief in 2010[21] based on ineffective assistance of counsel including that Gutierrez did not investigate Asia McClain as an alibi witness; this appeal was initially denied in 2014.[22]

On February 6, 2015, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals approved Syed's application for leave to appeal ("leave" meaning "permission").[23]

On May 19, 2015, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals remanded the case to circuit court for potential hearing on the admissibility of alibi testimony of Asia McClain, who said she was talking with Syed in the library at the exact time the prosecutor said Syed attacked Lee in a Best Buy parking lot several miles away.[24] On November 9, 2015, the superior Court decided it would hear the case.[25] According to Sarah Koenig's investigation as told in Serial, McClain's account of her encounter with Syed on the day of the disappearance would have been helpful for Syed during his trial.[23]

Syed's appeals lawyer C. Justin Brown said that new evidence about the reliability of incoming call data from AT&T is suspect and should be reviewed by an appeals court, stating, "the cell tower evidence was misleading and should have never been admitted at trial."[26]

On November 6, 2015, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Martin Welch ordered that Syed's post-conviction relief proceedings, which determines if he deserves a new trial, would be re-opened "in the interests of justice for all parties."[27] The post-conviction relief hearing, originally scheduled to last two days, lasted five days from February 3-9, 2016.[28] The hearing was attended by people from across the U.S., including Koenig, and McClain testified that she talked to Syed at the library on January 13, 1999.[29]

On June 30, 2016, Judge Welch granted Syed's request for a new trial, ruling that Gutierrez "rendered ineffective assistance when she failed to cross-examine the state's expert regarding the reliability of cell tower location evidence," vacating Syed's conviction.[30][31] In October 2016, Syed's attorneys requested bail be granted to Syed until the retrial started.[32] On December 29, 2016, Judge Welch denied bail for Syed.[33] On March 29, 2018, the decision to grant Syed a new trial was upheld by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.[34]

In 2018, the State applied to the highest court in Maryland, to review the decision to overturn Syed's conviction. On July 12, 2018, the Court of Appeals agreed to hear both the State's appeal and Syed's cross-appeal.[35] An appeals panel of seven judges heard oral arguments on November 29, 2018,[36] and on March 8, 2019 the Maryland Court of Appeals, on a 4-3 vote, reversed the lower appellate court's ruling, effectively denying the new trial.[37] The Court agreed that Syed's legal counsel was deficient but ruled that it would have not been enough to have swayed the jury to change their decision because, in the Court's opinion, the prosecution could have chosen a different time for the murder. They also ruled that the opportunity to reexamine the cell tower evidence had been waived because the issue had not been raised as part of Syed's Ineffective Assistance of Counsel claims in his original petition.[38]

Aftermath[edit]

Serial and Undisclosed podcasts[edit]

From October 3 to December 18, 2014, the murder of Hae Min Lee and the subsequent arrest and trial of Adnan Masud Syed was the subject of the first season of the podcast Serial, hosted by Sarah Koenig. The podcast episodes generated international interest in the trial and were downloaded more than 100 million times by June 2016.[6] In 2015, lawyers Rabia Chaudry (who had introduced the case to Koenig), Susan Simpson, and Collin Miller began producing a podcast called Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed. While Serial was a narrative, the focus of Undisclosed was investigation.[39]

Lee's family remains convinced of Syed's guilt, saying that it is now "more clear than ever" that he killed their daughter.[40]

Investigation Discovery aired a one-hour special called Adnan Syed: Innocent or Guilty? on June 14, 2016, based on a new analysis of evidence brought up in the podcasts.[41][42]

In 2016, there were two books published related to the case. Confessions of a Serial Alibi written by Asia McClain Chapman was released on June 7, 2016,[43] and Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial written by Rabia Chaudry was released on August 9, 2016.[44]

On March 29, 2018, Maryland's second-highest court ruled that Syed deserved a new trial. The Court of Special Appeals' opinion explained that Syed's counsel failed to contact a potential alibi witness who could "have raised a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror."[45] On March 8, 2019 the Maryland Court of Appeals, on a 4-3 vote, reversed the lower appellate court's ruling, effectively denying the new trial.[46]

DNA testing[edit]

The Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Virginia Law School has identified several other potential suspects responsible for similar crimes in the area and were attempting to get new DNA tests, specific to Hae's case, be conducted.[47] Deirdre Enright of the Innocence Project said that they are waiting to hear back from Maryland whether they can file for DNA testing while the appeal motion is pending.[48] As of 2015, Syed's legal team had not yet started pursuing DNA testing.[49]

Documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun in early 2019 show that Maryland prosecutors tested multiple items in mid-2018 tied to the murder, including the victim and her car, but none tested positive for Syed's DNA.[50].

HBO documentary[edit]

In May 2018, HBO announced it would produce a four-hour documentary based on the murder case called The Case Against Adnan Syed.[51] The first part of a four-part series was released on March 10, 2019.[52]

The HBO documentary revealed that Syed turned down a plea bargain in 2018 that would have him serve four more years and then be released, and that subsequently Syed's mother told him that she had Leukemia.[53]

References[edit]

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