Murder of Hae Min Lee
|Hae Min Lee|
October 15, 1980|
|Disappeared||January 13, 1999(aged 18)|
|Cause of death||Manual strangulation|
February 9, 1999|
in Leakin Park
|Occupation||High school student|
Subject of Serial (podcast)
Hae Min Lee (Hangul: 이해민; October 15, 1980 – c. January 13, 1999) was a Korean-American high school senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, 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: سید مسعود عدنان), her ex-boyfriend, was convicted in February 2000 of first-degree murder and given a life sentence plus 30 years. Syed insists he is innocent, and Syed supporter Rabia Chaudry says she can prove it, citing the autopsy, a lack of physical evidence against Syed, and an alternate suspect.
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. In July 2016, Judge Martin P. Welch vacated Syed's conviction and ordered a new trial. On March 29, 2018, Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision to grant Syed a new trial.
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. Lee attended the magnet program at Woodlawn High School near Baltimore, Maryland. She was an athlete who played lacrosse and field hockey.
Lee disappeared on January 13, 1999. Her family reported her missing after she failed to pick up her younger cousin from daycare at about 3:15 PM. 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, Baltimore City. 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. 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. Two people were questioned from this call log, Jay Wilds and Jennifer Pusateri. Pusateri told police that her friend, Jay Wilds, had called her that day using Syed's phone. In a subsequent interview, she told police that Wilds had admitted to her that he helped Syed bury his ex-girlfriend's body. The investigating officers also 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. Supporters of Adnan have argued that auditory aspects of the recorded interview may indicate coaching.
Syed was arrested on February 28, 1999, and charged with first-degree murder.
Trials and appeals
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". 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. Syed was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.
Adnan made a Direct Appeal in 2003 which was unsuccessful, and later made an appeal for Post Conviction Relief in 2010 based on inadequate assistance of counsel including that Gutierrez did not investigate Asia McClain as an alibi witness; this appeal was denied in 2013.
On February 6, 2015, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals approved Syed's application for leave to appeal ("leave" meaning "permission").
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. On November 9, 2015, the Superior Court decided it would hear the case. 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.
Syed's appeals lawyer 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."
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." The post-conviction relief hearing, originally scheduled to last two days, lasted five days from February 3 – 9, 2016. 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.
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. In October 2016, Syed's attorneys requested bail be granted to Syed until the retrial started. On December 29, 2016, Judge Welch denied bail for Syed. On March 29, 2018, the decision to grant Syed a new trial was upheld by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
On May 14, 2018, the State applied to the highest court in Maryland, the Court of Appeals, with a petition for writ of certiorari to make another appeal of the case. Syed's defense has filed an opposition and the Court is likely to decide if they will hear the case within 6 to 8 weeks of the appeal.
Serial and Undisclosed podcasts
From October 3 to December 18, 2014, the murder 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. In 2015, lawyer Rabia Chaudry (an advocate for Syed who had introduced the case to Koenig) and others began producing a podcast called Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed. Undisclosed found that the condition of Lee's body was inconsistent with the State's theory of her burial, and also that Jay Wilds, a key state witness, frequently seemed not to know what to say during police interviews, until a tapping sound was heard. After the tapping sound, he would apologize and give an answer.
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, and Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial written by Rabia Chaudry was released on August 9, 2016.
On March 29, 2018, Maryland's second-highest court ruled that Syed deserved a new trial. The three-judge panel agreed that Syed's counsel failed to contact potential alibi witnesses that may "have raised a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror."
The Innocence Project DNA testing
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 will be requesting new DNA tests, specific to Hae's case, be conducted. 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. As of 2015, Syed's legal team had not yet started pursuing DNA testing.
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