Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office clashes with AG over release of key document in Syed case

Adnan Syed, 41, in white, leaves court on Sept. 19 after his conviction in the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee was vacated. (Madeleine O’Neill/The Daily Record)

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is opposing efforts to release a document that would shed light on an alternative suspect in the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee and clarify prosecutors’ claims about an alleged Brady violation that contributed to Adnan Syed’s conviction in the killing.

Mosby’s position further intensifies a clash with Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who has disputed the Brady violation and, as of Thursday, said he still stands behind Syed’s conviction.

Letters provided to The Daily Record on Friday show that the Attorney General’s Office located a key document that identified an alternative suspect in the murder case and planned to release the document in response to a Public Information Act request from the news outlet.

Click on this image to see the letter Frosh sent to Mosby.

Click on this image to see the letter Frosh sent to Mosby.

“We intend to release promptly the documents that we are able to identify,” Frosh wrote in a letter to Mosby on Tuesday. “If you object to the production, please let us know before the close of business tomorrow.”

Mosby replied that she objected to the release of the document because it would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation into the killing.

“As a fellow law enforcement agency, the Office of the Attorney General is well aware of and can appreciate the importance of maintaining the integrity and secrecy of an investigation,” Mosby wrote.

Syed was freed from prison last week after city prosecutors moved to vacate his conviction, citing the alleged Brady violation and a host of other factors that had weakened their faith in the case. The request centered on two handwritten documents that revealed an alternative suspect who had reportedly said he would kill Lee.

The documents had not been turned over to the defense and were discovered during a re-investigation of the case during the past year, according to court papers.

Click on this image to see the reply Mosby sent to Frosh.

Click on this image to see the reply Mosby sent to Frosh.

Hours after Syed’s release, however, the Attorney General’s Office denied that there had been a Brady violation, which occurs when prosecutors fail to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. The office said in a statement that Syed’s file had been made available to defense attorneys.

The Daily Record filed a Public Information Act request for the documents immediately after receiving the statement from the Attorney General’s Office.

The statement created an unusual rift between city and state prosecutors. The Attorney General’s Office is in an especially uncomfortable position because Lee’s family has filed notice they plan to appeal on the grounds that they did not receive enough notice of the hearing to vacate Syed’s conviction.

The Attorney General’s Office typically defends the state in criminal appeals. In comments to reporters Thursday, Frosh said he stands behind Syed’s conviction despite city prosecutors’ motion to vacate.

“There’s nothing in the motion that’s changed our view about the overwhelming evidence that showed that Adnan Syed murdered Hae Min Lee,” Frosh said.

Click on this image to see the Public Information Act request response.

Click on this image to see the Public Information Act request response.

Becky Feldman, the head of the State’s Attorney’s Office’s Sentencing Review Unit, said in court last week that the handwriting on the Brady documents was “poor and hard to read,” and that she and Syed’s lawyer, Assistant Maryland Public Defender Erica Suter, were “shocked” to find the documents in Syed’s file.

Feldman gave several other reasons to vacate Syed’s conviction, including the unreliability of cellphone location data used in the case and of a key eyewitness who told police Syed took him to Lee’s body.

Frosh’s office said it was unable to identify the second document that prosecutors referenced, which refers to a possible motive for the alternative suspect to harm Lee.

“Because your office did not consult with us about the evidence you were relying upon, we cannot identify any such document,” Frosh wrote in the letter to Mosby.

Frosh’s office cited one of its own opinions in denying the record it was able to identify.

“When, as here, an agency like ours is in possession of information from another law enforcement agency’s investigatory file, we have recommended that the agency withhold the information if the investigating agency ‘would itself deny access under the [PIA’s] investigatory files exemption,'” Frosh wrote in his response to The Daily Record.