Adnan Syed: 1 of Baltimore’s 4 Wrongfully Convicted Defendants Exonerated By DNA Evidence

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Baltimore City has seen at least one exoneration each year since 2014, the latest wrongly convicted defendant being Adnan Syed whose murder charges from 1999 were officially dropped on Oct. 11.

Syed was charged with the murder of Hae Min Lee and later convicted in 2000. The Maryland Office of the Public Defender announced Tuesday that DNA results were behind Syed’s exoneration.

Syed marks the 33rd exonerated defendant for Baltimore City with cases dating back to 2000. In the past 22 years, there were only five years when the city had no exonerations, the last exoneration-free year being in 2013.

The majority of exonerations were recorded with seven defendants in four separate cases in 2019, followed by five defendants in five separate cases in 2018. Reasons behind these exonerations included witness misidentification, evidence issues, perjury or false accusation, official misconduct, and inadequate legal defense, the National Registry of Exonerations reports.

Like Syed’s case, the registry states that DNA evidence has contributed to the exoneration of three other convicted defendants, including David Morris in 2021, Malcolm Bryant in 2016, and James Owens in 2008. Owens served the longest sentence for a total of 20 years, beginning with his conviction in 1988 for the murder of a phone company worker and a community college student.

Morris was originally convicted in 2005 for the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Mustafa Carter, while Bryant was convicted in 1999 for the fatal stabbing of 16-year-old Toni Bullock.

Exoneration by DNA

Less than a month after Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn overturned Syed’s life sentence, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender released a statement on Tuesday announcing the criminal case’s dismissal in the circuit court. According to the press release, DNA results confirmed Syed’s innocence in Lee’s murder more than two decades ago.

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said evidence that had never been tested before—Lee’s skirt, pantyhose, jacket, and shoes—were submitted for DNA testing, one of which came back with results.

“There was a DNA mixture of multiple contributors on both Ms. Lee’s shoes—the same multiple contributors for both of Ms. Lee’s shoes,” Mosby said. “Most compellingly, Adnan Syed’s DNA was excluded.”

Mosby said last month that her office was awaiting results of a DNA analysis from Lee’s clothing, shoes and rape kit that would determine whether the prosecution would dismiss the charges or proceed with a new trial. The decision was required within 30 days, which began on Sept. 19—the date his conviction was overturned.

Over 40 individuals have had their sentences modified or have been released in Baltimore City under the Sentencing Review Unit, Mosby noted.

Syed’s case was called during Judge Phinn’s reception court Tuesday morning when it was dismissed. Lee’s family previously filed an appeal in the Court of Special Appeals; however, Mosby said the appeal is no more.

“It’s moot. The case is over,” Mosby said.

Erica Suter, Syed’s attorney and director of the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic, contradicted Mosby’s statement regarding the appeal during another press conference when Suter said the Court of Special Appeals has not dismissed the appeal, which is still pending before the court.

A motion to certify Syed’s innocence will begin as soon as possible, she said, but at this time, Syed is no longer on home monitoring.

“The state of Maryland has dropped the charges. Adnan Syed is free,” Suter said.

The investigation into Lee’s death is ongoing.

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