‘Se­rial’ pod­cast sub­ject Syed seeks re­lease from prison

Lawyers say he’s no threat as he awaits new trial

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Fen­ton

Ad­nan Syed, the “Se­rial” pod­cast sub­ject whose mur­der con­vic­tion was over­turned this sum­mer, is ask­ing a judge to let him out of jail as he awaits a new trial.

Syed, 35, has been in cus­tody for more than 17 years.

In a pe­ti­tion filed Mon­day, his at­tor­neys say he would pose no dan­ger to the com­mu­nity and that they have a so­cial worker lined up to help him tran­si­tion out of prison, where they say he has had no be­hav­ior prob­lems.

His at­tor­neys write of the “crum­bling” case against him, and raise new ac­cu­sa­tions about his for­mer co-de­fen­dant, Jay Wilds, who was a key wit­ness against him in his 2000 trial.

“Syed has been wait­ing 17 years to get back into court to prove his in­no­cence,” his at­tor­neys wrote. “With that mo­ment within his grasp, there is no rea­son to think he would now ab­scond from jus­tice and risk ev­ery­thing he has ac­com­plished to date.”

Syed was con­victed by a Bal­ti­more jury of first-de­gree mur­der in 2000 in the stran­gling death of ex-girl­friend Hae Min Lee.

He was sen­tenced to life in prison plus 30 years.

Lee, a class­mate at Wood­lawn High School, dis­ap­peared in Jan­uary 1999. Her body was found the next month, buried in Leakin Park.

The killing, in­ves­ti­ga­tion and trial be­came the sub­ject of the block­buster “Se­rial” pod­cast in 2014, which raised ques­tions about the case against Syed.

It is rare for a de­fen­dant who is charged with a vi­o­lent crime pun­ish­able by life in prison to be re­leased pend­ing trial. But Syed’s at­tor­neys say the law al­lows it, and that Syed is a good can­di­date for such an ex­cep­tion.

Syed has been de­tained since his ar­rest in Fe­bru­ary 1999. After his con­vic­tion in Fe­bru­ary 2000, his at­tor­neys launched a se­ries of ap­peals. This past June, a Bal­ti­more judge found that his ini­tial trial at­tor­ney had pro­vided in­ef­fec­tive as­sis­tance, va­cated his con­vic­tion and or­dered a new trial.

Pros­e­cu­tors are ap­peal­ing that rul­ing, a process the de­fense says could take years. The state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, which is rep­re­sent­ing pros­e­cu­tors in the case, de­clined to com­ment Mon­day.

Steve Sil­ver­man, a Bal­ti­more at­tor­ney who is not in­volved in the case, said judges are “his­tor­i­cally re­luc­tant to give a bail with charges of this na­ture.”

But “the un­usual cir­cum­stances in­volv­ing the grant­ing of a new trial and ques­tion­ing of ten­u­ous ev­i­dence and pro­ce­dure,” he said, “could tilt the scales to­wards a court con­sid­er­ing a bail.”

“If there was a bail, it would most likely be a very high bail, and whether some­one or a bonds­man wants to take a risk is an­other ques­tion.”

Syed had no his­tory of vi­o­lence be­fore his ar­rest, his at­tor­neys say, and has been a model in­mate while locked up in a max­i­mum-se­cu­rity prison for 17 years.

“Pris­ons are among the most vi­o­lent places in our so­ci­ety,” they wrote, “yet Syed has not been cited for a sin­gle vi­o­lent act in 17 years in that en­vi­ron­ment.”

In De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions records, his at­tor­neys say, of­fi­cials call him an “ex­cel­lent” worker who “re­quires min­i­mal su­per­vi­sion” and is “al­ways very re­spect­ful to staff.” He was caught in 2009 with a con­tra­band cell­phone, they say, but has never been cited for a fight or in­sub­or­di­na­tion.

In de­cid­ing whether to grant bail, the court takes into con­sid­er­a­tion whether a de­fen­dant is a flight risk. His at­tor­ney say that’s not a con­cern in Syed’s case.

They spent a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the pe­ti­tion at­tack­ing the state’s case, in­clud­ing Wilds, who tes­ti­fied that Syed showed him Lee’s body and told him he stran­gled her. Wilds said they buried the body to­gether.

Wilds pleaded guilty to be­ing an ac­ces­sory after the fact and served no time.

Syed’s at­tor­neys say Wilds’ story has shifted and changed, and that his cred­i­bil­ity has been fur­ther un­der­mined by his in­ter­ac­tions with law en­force­ment.

Since he gave his tes­ti­mony, they wrote, “Wilds has been ar­rested, con­victed or in­ves­ti­gated by po­lice more than 20 times,” in­clud­ing an “omi­nous his­tory of be­ing charged for in­ci­dents of rage and vi­o­lence against women.”

Ef­forts to reach Wilds on Mon­day were un­suc­cess­ful.

Syed’s at­tor­neys pulled po­lice re­ports in­volv­ing Wilds and con­tacted one ex­girl­friend who said Wilds had choked her out of jeal­ousy.

“Un­der th­ese cir­cum­stances, the na­ture of the ev­i­dence in this case tilts de­cid­edly in fa­vor or re­leas­ing Syed be­fore an­other jury has the un­en­vi­able task of sort­ing through the in­con­sis­ten­cies in the brand-new story that Wilds will in­evitably tell,” they wrote.

Wilds did not par­tic­i­pate in “Se­rial,” which chal­lenged his ac­count of the events. In an in­ter­view with The In­ter­cept on­line pub­li­ca­tion, Wilds said he had not been truth­ful with po­lice about some as­pects of his story but main­tained that he helped dis­pose of the body.

“There’s noth­ing that’s gonna change the fact that this guy drove up in front of my grandmother’s house, popped the trunk, and had his dead girl­friend in the trunk,” Wilds told The In­ter­cept.

Sil­ver­man, the at­tor­ney who is not in­volved in the case, said judges de­cid­ing bail are sup­posed to eval­u­ate the na­ture of the charges, the risk of flight and dan­ger to the com­mu­nity — not the dis­puted facts of the case.

Still, he said, such ar­gu­ments can of­ten “leak into the pro­ceed­ing.”

“It may not be statu­to­rily cor­rect to ar­gue facts at a bail hear­ing, but it hap­pens,” Sil­ver­man said.

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