Biography Profile: Adnan Syed

Adnan Syed is a Muslim-American man who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999. His case became internationally famous by the podcast “Serial” in 2014.

Who Is Adnan Syed?

Adnan Syed is a Muslim-American man from Baltimore, Maryland, who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999. At the time of her murder, both Syed and Lee were seniors at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore. Lee disappeared on January 13, 1999, and her half-buried body was found one month later in a nearby city park. The cause of her death was manual strangulation. In February 2000, Syed was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with an additional 30 years. Syed has always maintained his innocence. In 2014 his case was revisited by journalist and radio personality Sarah Koenig on the podcast “Serial” — which placed doubt on his guilty verdict — and was catapulted into the international spotlight. In June 2016 Syed was granted a retrial by a Baltimore city circuit court judge, and in March 2018 the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld that decision. However, on March 8, 2019, the Maryland Court of Appeals denied Syed a new trial.

Relationship with Hae Min Lee

Just like Syed, Lee was popular at school. She was a member of the lacrosse and field hockey team, managed the boy’s wrestling team, and had dreams of being an optician. She and Syed kept their relationship a secret from their conservative immigrant families, but eventually, the secrecy frustrated Lee, which was what purportedly drove a wedge between them. After they broke up, Lee began to date a man named Don, who worked with her at a local LensCrafters.

Hae Min Lee’s Murder

On January 13, 1999, Korean-American high school student Hae Min Lee, 18, was reported missing by her family after failing to come home. Four weeks later, her half-buried body was found at Leakin Park by a passerby. According to autopsy reports, she died of manual strangulation.

Arrest, Trial & Conviction

After a police investigation, in which Syed’s friend Jay Wilds confessed he had helped Syed bury Lee’s body, Syed was arrested on February 28, 1999, and charged with kidnapping and murdering Lee.

Although prosecutors couldn’t offer any physical evidence against Syed, they used Wilds’ testimony along with the testimony of a corroborating witness, Jennifer Pusateri, who claimed that Wilds had told her Syed confessed to Lee’s murder and had shown him the body.

According to Wilds, Syed was angry that Lee had broken up with him and murdered her out of revenge. The other piece of evidence that helped the prosecution’s case included cell tower records, which had confirmed some of Wilds’ timeline of how events occurred.

Although Syed maintained his innocence, he was convicted in February 2000 of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.

Since Syed’s conviction, Wilds has changed his story multiple times, and recent analysis of Wilds’ police interviews suggest he had been heavily coached by the Baltimore police.

Adnan Syed

Adnan Syed following the completion of the first day of hearings for a retrial in Baltimore on February 3, 2016

Photo: Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images

Appeals

Starting in 2003, Syed appealed his case but to no avail. He appealed again in 2010, but this time on the basis of “ineffective assistance of counsel.” Syed claimed that his attorney at the time, Cristina Gutierrez, did not look into an alibi witness, Asia McClain, who said she was with Syed at Woodlawn High School’s library at the time of the murder.

In addition to McClain, Syed’s appeals lawyer also brought into consideration the unreliability of the cell tower records evidence from the original trial.

In June 2016 Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Martin Welch granted Syed a retrial, which was upheld on March 29, 2018, by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. However, a year later, the state’s highest court rejected the lower court’s decision by a 4-3 vote, denying Syed a retrial. It asserted that, regardless of the shortcomings of Syed’s original legal counsel, the recent evidence being presented wouldn’t have altered the jury’s decision.

Adnan Syed’s Case in the Media

Thanks to the worldwide popularity of “Serial,” Syed’s case has captured public interest and spawned a plethora of media projects. His advocate, family friend and lawyer Rabia Chaudry, launched her own podcast entitled “Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed” and also published a book Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial (2016).

McClain produced her own book, Confessions of a Serial Alibi (2016), and Investigations Discovery premiered the documentary Adnan Syed: Innocent or Guilty? in 2016.

In March 2019, HBO also launched a four-part documentary entitled The Case Against Adnan Syed, based on the case’s evolution since its broadcast on “Serial.”

Adnan Syed’s Family Life

Not much has been reported on Syed’s biography or family in detail. Syed was born on May 21, 1980, in Baltimore, Maryland to conservative Muslim parents, Shamim and Syed Rahman. As the middle child, Syed is one of three sons, the oldest being Tanveer and the younger being Yusuf.

At Woodlawn High School, Syed was popular and a straight-A student. He was the homecoming king and played on the varsity football team and worked part-time for a paramedic service.

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