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Syed calls for investigation into claims of prosecutorial misconduct in murder case

Madeleine O'Neill//September 19, 2023

Adnan Syed meets with reporters Tuesday, announcing that he's calling for the Maryland attorney general to investigate his case. (The Daily Record/Madeleine O'Neill)

Adnan Syed meets with reporters Tuesday, announcing that he's calling for the Maryland attorney general to investigate his case. (The Daily Record/Madeleine O'Neill)

Syed calls for investigation into claims of prosecutorial misconduct in murder case

By Madeleine O'Neill

//September 19, 2023

Adnan Syed spoke in depth about his 1999 murder case Tuesday, using a press conference at his family’s Baltimore County home to seek an investigation into what he called repeated prosecutorial misconduct in the case.The ad-hoc press conference allowed Syed to present nearly two hours of evidence that he said shows prosecutors who handled his case told consequential lies and worked behind the scenes to undermine his innocence claim.Syed asked Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown to investigate his claims, which he made in one of his only statements to the news media since being released from prison a year ago.

In an email, a spokesperson for Brown said that the Attorney General’s Office “does not have the authority to investigate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.”

“We are prevented from commenting any further because, as you are aware, we are in the midst of ongoing litigation involving this case,” said the spokesperson, Jennifer Donelan.

Syed, 42, is in legal limbo right now. His conviction in the 1999 killing of his high school ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, was vacated last year but then reinstated by the Maryland Appellate Court because of a dispute over crime victims’ rights.

The case is now pending before the Maryland Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments next month.

Syed’s lengthy press conference was unusual for a number of reasons. It was scheduled at the last minute by Syed himself, not by his attorneys or a spokesperson. Syed’s lawyer, assistant public defender Erica Suter, was not present Tuesday and the Maryland Office of the Public Defender declined to comment.

Syed said he wanted to take his concerns directly to Brown as a citizen of the state of Maryland.

During an exhaustive presentation, Syed raised a series of claims about the prosecutors who originally tried his case, Kevin Urick and Kathleen Murphy.

Syed levied two primary allegations: First, that Urick lied about the contents of a handwritten note that became central to claims he failed to turn over exculpatory evidence to Syed’s defense. And second, that Murphy worked behind the scenes to orchestrate a coordinated response from the Lee family and the Maryland Attorney General’s Office when Baltimore City prosecutors asked to vacate Syed’s conviction last year.

Urick could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Maryland Judiciary declined to comment on behalf of Murphy, who is now a district judge in Baltimore County, because judges cannot comment on pending cases.

Syed left prison a year ago after Baltimore prosecutors asked to undo his conviction, citing newly discovered evidence of a potential alternative suspect and other flaws in the trial evidence.

Hae Min Lee, 18, went missing on Jan. 13, 1999, and her body was found buried in Baltimore’s Leakin Park a few weeks later. Police accused Syed, who was 17 at the time, of strangling her to death. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison; he always maintained his innocence.

The case gained international recognition when it was examined in the hit true-crime podcast “Serial” in 2014.

In 2021, Baltimore prosecutors reinvestigated the case at the urging of Syed’s lawyer and ultimately concluded that the evidence did not support Syed’s guilt.

The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office asked to vacate his conviction in a request that highlighted two handwritten notes said to reveal an alternative suspect who had said he would kill Lee. Those documents were never turned over to the defense, prosecutors said, raising questions about the original conviction’s legitimacy.

But the Attorney General’s Office, then being led by Brian Frosh, raised questions about the note and said in legal filings that its meaning was open to interpretation. Urick then provided a copy of the note and a transcript to another news outlet in November.

Urick claimed the note was misinterpreted, and that a written reference to someone who said “he would kill (Lee)” was about Syed, not a mysterious alternative suspect in Lee’s killing.

On Tuesday, Syed claimed that the person who originally called Urick with that information years ago has now come forward to clarify that the subject of the note was not Syed, but another person. Syed said the person has provided an affidavit that is now in the hands of a lawyer; he declined to provide any additional information, such as the identity of the lawyer.

Syed also pointed to past examples from his case when, he said, Urick misrepresented a witness’s statements or manipulated evidence to make Syed appear guilty.

“Kevin Urick has a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct,” Syed said.

Syed’s case is now tied up in a legal fight about victims’ rights that is set to go before the state Supreme Court.

Lee’s family has argued they were entitled to more notice before the vacatur hearing last September. Lee’s brother, Young Lee, was notified only a few days before the hearing and had to address the court via Zoom because he did not have time to fly in from his home in California.

The Maryland Appellate Court sided with the family and reinstated Syed’s conviction, finding that crime victims have the right to be present, but not to speak, at vacatur hearings.

The Lee family has asked the Maryland Supreme Court to go a step further and find that crime victims have the right to address the court and challenge evidence at a vacatur hearing. The Maryland Attorney General’s Office, now under Brown’s leadership, has continued to support the Lee family’s appeal.

Syed alleged Tuesday that the other prosecutor who handled his original trial, Murphy, stepped in last year to help the Lee family retain a lawyer and assured the family they would have support from the Attorney General’s Office if they appealed.

Murphy worked at the Attorney General’s Office before her appointment to the bench.

Syed claimed that Murphy pushed for an appeal after the vacatur hearing in an effort to protect her and Urick from scrutiny.

“We believe that the past year of litigation has not been about victim’s rights,” Syed said. “We believe that the past year of litigation has been about protecting Kathleen Murphy and Kevin Urick from accountability.”

Syed said he is prepared to return to prison if the Maryland Supreme Court reinstates his conviction, though it is unclear exactly what would happen if the court rules that way. But Syed said he hopes that Brown will examine the prosecutors’ involvement in his case and their efforts to bolster the evidence against him.


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