By Aya Elamroussi and Sonia Moghe, CNN
The family of Hae Min Lee, a teenager whose killing in 1999 was profiled on the first season of the podcast “Serial,” have asked a Maryland court to halt legal proceedings related to her homicide to address alleged violations of a state victim rights law.
The motion filed September 29 stated Lee’s family was not notified in a timely manner of prosecutors’ intent to vacate the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, who was released last month after serving more than 20 years in prison for her murder.
Lee’s family also argued two days after prosecutors filed the motion to vacate Syed’s conviction, a meeting took place in court between prosecutors and Syed’s attorneys. The family says they were not notified of the proceeding and were later informed an “in-person hearing” was scheduled for the next business day, leaving them with no opportunity to attend or be heard, the family’s motion states.
Young Lee, Hae Min Lee’s brother, “wished to attend the hearing in person but could not travel from California on such short notice,” the family’s motion states.
Lee’s family is asking the court to hold a hearing where family representatives can be allowed to take part and ask to see the evidence that changed prosecutors’ minds about Syed’s involvement in the case.
Attorney Steve Kelly, who represents the Lee family, said Wednesday the family is not asking for Syed to be taken back into custody or to affect his release.
“If the wrong person has been behind bars for 23 years, the Lee family and the rest of the world want to understand what new evidence has led to that conclusion,” Kelly said.
“If Mr. Syed has been wrongfully convicted for Hae Min Lee’s murder, the state of Maryland would need to take responsibility for that extraordinary miscarriage of justice and would need to do everything possible to bring the actual killer to justice. The Lee family deserves at least that much,” Kelly added.
Young Lee filed a motion the day of the hearing, stating he did not have enough notice to exercise his right to be present for the proceedings. While Associate Judge Melissa Phinn denied his motion, she ordered a 30-minute recess to allow Lee to leave work and get on a Zoom call, so he could watch the hearing.
“This isn’t a podcast for me, it’s real life,” Lee said during the hearing.
In his impact statement, he said he felt “betrayed” by the state. “I always thought the state was on my side,” Lee said.
The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s office said it will continue to fight for Hae Min Lee’s family.
“We truly empathize with Hae Min Lee’s family, who believed they had resolution and are now being re-traumatized by the misdeeds of the prior prosecutors,” Zy Richardson, spokesperson for the office, said in a statement.
Murder conviction vacated after further investigation
Syed was serving a life sentence in prison when his murder conviction was vacated September 19. He was convicted in February 2000 of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and false imprisonment in the killing of Lee, who was his ex-girlfriend.
The conviction was vacated after a judge determined some materials related to the case were not properly turned over to defense attorneys. There were two suspects who may have been improperly cleared as part of the investigation, the judge said.
Syed maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment.
Vacating the conviction does not mean the court deemed Syed as innocent, “but we are declaring that in the interest of fairness and justice he is entitled to a new trial,” Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said September 19.
Baltimore prosecutors have 30 days from the date of Syed’s release to decide whether to pursue a new trial.
Prosecutors are waiting for DNA analysis, which they are trying to expedite, to determine whether Syed’s case is dismissed or the case is set for trial. But the decision is “separate and apart” from the investigation into who killed Lee, Mosby said.
The case gained national attention as well as public scrutiny when it was investigated on the hit podcast “Serial,” which raised questions about the conviction and Syed’s legal representation at the time.
Syed is currently ordered to wear a tracking ankle monitor, according to Becky Feldman, chief of the Sentencing Review Unit of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.
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CNN’s Rob Frehse and Liam Reilly contributed to this report.