IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Will Adnan Syed face another trial in the murder of Hae Min Lee?

The Baltimore state's attorney's office has a month to decide, but even the victim's family has little hope there will ever be another trial in Lee's slaying.
Get more newsLiveon

Baltimore prosecutors have a month to decide whether to retry Adnan Syed, although legal analysts — and the victim's family — said Tuesday they have no expectation the murder case will ever be tried again.

After more than two decades in prison, Syed, 42, walked out of court Monday a free man but under house detention. Prosecutors are considering their next move after they successfully lobbied a Baltimore judge to vacate his murder conviction.

"They won't retry this case, because where are they going to come up with all the evidence in the case when they've already acknowledged there are inconsistencies?" NBC legal analyst Danny Cevallos said. "The idea of retrying this case would be an incredible long shot."

Syed was convicted of killing ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, 18, whose body was found buried in Baltimore’s Leakin Park in 1999.

He was sentenced to life behind bars. Then the popular "Serial" podcast raised questions in 2014 about the evidence against him.

"I would never bet the house on anything, but it would be an incredibly hard case to retry," University of Baltimore law professor David Jaros said. "It would be very hard for me to imagine they would pursue this case" again.

What would it take to try Adnan Syed again?

It would take ironclad DNA evidence directly tying Syed to Lee's slaying to make for any credible prosecution, said Doug Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor who once represented Syed.

"So unless there is a finding either DNA or [new] compelling testimonial evidence, I expect that" Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby "will reach closure and conclude that she's not able to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt," Colbert said.

Mosby told CBS affiliate WJZ of Baltimore on Tuesday that she would be comfortable not just opting against a re-trial, but calling Syed "innocent" depending on the results of on-going DNA analysis.

"If that DNA comes back inconclusive, I will certify that he is is innocent. If it comes back to two alternative suspects, I will certify that he’s innocent," the prosecutor said. "If it comes back to Adnan Syed, the state is still in a position to proceed upon the prosecution."

A few items of Lee's clothing, including shoes, pantyhose and a jacket, are still being analyzed for DNA, a representative for Mosby said Wednesday.

Hae Min Lee's family feels betrayed

Syed was released despite a tearful statement from the victim's brother, Young Lee, who said the prosecution's request to vacate the conviction felt like a "betrayal."

Family attorney Steve Kelly said Lee's survivors do not believe Baltimore prosecutors will opt for another trial.

“The family has very little hope at this point. They are not hopeful that anybody will ever face justice for Hae’s murder,” Kelly said Tuesday. “Right now they’re feeling very stung and distraught.”

After a judge released Syed from prison and vacated his murder conviction, at the behest of prosecutors, Mosby declared that the newly freed man has not been found innocent and that her office will weigh a retrial.

Mosby's hedged comments belie court action moments earlier, when her own prosecutor eviscerated the state's successful murder case.

Prosecutor stopped short of declaring Syed innocent

In her arguments in court Monday, prosecutor Becky Feldman attacked virtually every crucial point of the state’s case against Syed.

She called the state’s star witness unreliable, questioned cellphone technology that was alleged to have placed Syed at the park where Lee’s body was found and questioned the integrity of a detective.

Even if there is another credible suspect or suspects, as the state's attorney's office claims, the stain left by Syed's case could affect a potential future prosecution.

“It’s hard to imagine how you come back from this and actually bring a case when you have these kinds of public statements that are being made,” Kelly said.

Other suspects in Lee's murder

And even if authorities uncovered evidence that implicated someone other than Syed in Lee's murder, any potential suspect could have a solid defense from the get-go.

"The mistakes that were made 23 years ago, which led them to pursue Mr. Syed and look past other suspects, may well mean that it'll be very hard to bring anyone to justice," Jaros said.

"Anyone who is charged in this case is going to be able to throw a whole lot of questions up about what arguments were made before about Mr. Syed and the evidence that they thought was suggestive of Mr. Syed's guilt. So on the question of raising reasonable doubt, it would be a huge challenge even if this case weren't 23 years old."

Kelly said his clients have standing to challenge Judge Melissa Phinn's ruling to vacate Syed's murder conviction but are too devastated to decide whether to appeal.

"The clients are in no position right now," Kelly said. "I can't have a coherent conversation with them. My contact is with Young Lee, and I can barely get a sentence out of him. He's just that shocked."