The Most Famous True Crime Podcast Case Was Just Overturned

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Adnan Syed, whose story was detailed in the Serial podcast, just had his murder conviction overturned.

By Doug Norrie
| Published

23 years after the tragic murder of Hae Min Lee, and eight years after the Serial podcast detailing the investigation into and conviction of Adnan Syed hit the airwaves (which also spawned an HBO docuseries), the original case has its biggest news in years. Variety has it that Syed’s murder conviction in Min Lee’s murder was overturned and he will be released from prison immediately. 

It’s a shocking turn of events decades after the original case and years after it gained national attention in the wake of the podcast. The story of Lee’s murder and Syed’s conviction was the crux of the Serial podcast’s first season.

In the ruling on Monday, Judge Melissa Phinn of Baltimore City Circuit Court vacated the original court decision citing that prosecutors at the time didn’t adequately report evidence in discovery that might have helped Syed’s case. Additionally, Phinn found that there could have been others involved in the crime (the Serial podcast detailed this possibility), something that wasn’t made known at the time of the original trial.

Though Syed is now out of prison, it doesn’t mean he is necessarily a free man. There could now be another trial if prosecutors and authorities deem they still have substantial evidence to retry the case. It’s unclear which path that will take at this point, but he will be on house arrest for 30 days while that is decided.

The Serial podcast became somewhat appointment listening in 2014, one of the medium’s first truly viral entries, and it detailed host Sarah Koenig’s investigation into the murder and subsequent court case that found Syed guilty of murder. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

But as Koenig and her team detailed in the events of the podcast, there were at least some reasons to believe that the police investigation and trial shed some doubt on whether Syed was guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The case of Hae Min Lee’s murder and the conviction of Syed became a national story in the wake of the Serial podcast in 2014. It told the story of how Min Lee disappeared after school in January 1999 and how her body was found two days later in Baltimore’s Leakin Park. Syed was Lee’s ex-boyfriend and was immediately a suspect. Differing stories of events of that night have led to uncertainty about what exactly happened. 

The first Serial podcast episode was downloaded more than five million times which was a podcast record at the time. In total, it was reported that the first season of Serial was downloaded more than 68 million times. Subsequent seasons of Serial were released but dealt with different stories. Occasionally, there had been updates posted by Koenig and her team (the podcast is owned by The New York Times). 

The Serial producers have said they will have a new episode of the podcast this week in the wake of this most recent ruling. It is unclear if Syed, now 41, will appear on this upcoming episode. There is sure to be more news about this story in the coming weeks.