The judge who presided over the murder trial of since-cleared “Serial” suspect Adnan Syed is standing behind his conviction — insisting the jury based it on “substantial direct and circumstantial evidence.”
Wanda Keyes Heard, Baltimore’s circuit court judge before she retired in 2019, firmly stood by the conviction in support of a legal challenge by the family of Hae Min Lee, the 18-year-old whose 1999 murder case was the focus of the podcast “Serial.”
Heard challenged how prosecutors could suddenly free Syed last month and drop the charges he’d been convicted of in 2000.
“A reading of the trial transcript will show that the jury verdict was supported by substantial direct and circumstantial evidence,” the retired judge stressed of Syed’s conviction after a 6-week trial.
“The verdict and the swift manner of the verdict reached made it clear to the court that the jury weighed the credibility of the witnesses who testified and were subject to vigorous cross examination,” she insisted in her affidavit given “in the interest of justice.”
“The jury appeared to have considered all of the evidence, the witness testimony, followed the law in instructions given by the Court, applied the law to the facts and reached their verdict,” she insisted.
Syed had always denied strangling Lee, his ex whose body was found buried in a Baltimore park, with his story gripping millions of listeners in 2014 when covered by Sarah Koenig’s podcast.
Still, his sudden release last month after 23 years in prison came as a shock — not least to Lee’s family.
Prosecutors “provided the Lee family with barely any notice and no meaningful opportunity to appear and comment on the evidence,” complained the lawsuit filed by Lee’s brother, Young Lee.
“The prosecutor also prevented the family from meaningfully participating because she introduced virtually no evidence on why she sought to vacate the charges against Adnan Syed,” the lawsuit states.
The filing accused Marilyn Mosby, the state’s attorney for the city of Baltimore, of ignoring the Lee family’s constitutional rights when she refused their say when she dropped charges against Syed Oct. 11.
Mosby told a press conference that “there is no more appeal, it’s moot.”
“This appeal is not moot,” the family said in its rebuttal Thursday, saying that the denial of an appeal amounted to their voices being “silenced.”
Lee’s brother is now asking the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to require the lower court to conduct a proper evidentiary hearing into the case.
In her affidavit supporting the family’s fight, Heard challenged the few arguments that have been made public in support of clearing Syed.
The announcement that DNA test results from Lee’s shoes excluded Syed was irrelevant because there was never any evidence at trial that he had touched them, she wrote.
It “would seem to be an unusual basis to eliminate Mr. Syed as Ms. Lee’s killer in the face of other overwhelming and riveting testimony,” she said.
She also said that the testimony of Jay Wilds — who prosecutors now say is not a credible witness — had been “powerful evidence” that was “corroborated by other witnesses, physical and documentary evidence.”
Heard also trashed the idea that Syed’s now-deceased attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, had failed to effectively defend him.
“At that time and during the trial, her legal talent and skill was outstanding,” the judge insisted.
In fact, Gutierrez “was at the top of her game during her defense of Mr. Syed” and “took full advantage of the fact that she knew what the State’s witnesses were going to say.”
Lee’s attorneys, Sanford Heisler Sharp, insisted that “the Lee family does not seek to impact Mr. Syed’s release from prison through their appeal.
“Instead, they hope to receive answers to the numerous questions surrounding the vacatur proceeding and subsequent vacatur Order.
“The Lee family and the residents of Maryland are entitled to have those answers given the protections and rights under the Maryland Constitution and related statutes.”
Mosby responded Tuesday to some of the latest legal challenges by insisting that Syed “was wrongly incarcerated for 23 years.”
“We stand by our investigation and our ultimate finding that there was no credible evidence that Mr. Syed was involved in the death of Ms. Lee,” she said in a statement.
“Our investigation is extensive, and only a portion of our findings were outlined,” she stated.
“Our office has always and will continue to treat the family of Hae Min Lee with respect,” Mosby insisted, saying her “office stands ready to talk to the family at any time.”