On Tuesday, Baltimore prosecutors dropped the charges against Adan Syed, the young man whose murder conviction was chronicled by the hit podcast Serial.
For folks who didn’t listen to Serial, Syed was convicted of the brutal 1999 murder of his girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Syed was only 17 when police arrested him, but he spent 23 years in prison before he was released in late-September.
From the start, race played a major role in the case. Syed is Muslim, and his family was from Pakistan. Serial and subsequent coverage of the case pointed out that police and prosecutors seem to have targeted Syed above other non-Muslim suspects and used racial stereotypes against him at trial.
The evidence against Syed also seemed flawed. For starters there was very little physical evidence connecting him to the murder. And the state’s case relied almost entirely on witness testimony, cell phone and call records, and a statement from Syed, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Despite the flaws with the state’s case, a jury found Syed guilty of murder, kidnapping, robbery, and false imprisonment. He was sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison.
Decades later, an investigation into the case has borne out concerns that the case was inherently flawed. According to the Baltimore Sun, a yearlong investigation by current Baltimore prosecutors found that the prosecutors at the time discovered two alternative suspects but did not disclose them to Syed’s defense team.
In September, Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn vacated Syed’s murder charge and gave prosecutors 30 days to decide whether to retry him or drop the charges.
Ultimately prosecutors decided to drop the charges after saying they “had lost faith in his guilty verdict.”
Hae Min Lee’s family has appealed Judge Phinn’s decision to vacate the charges related to her horrific killing. And according to the Baltimore Sun, it’s unclear how the prosecutor’s decision to drop the charges will impact their appeal.
But for now, Syed, who has spent more time in prison than outside of one, is free.