The Tragic 1999 Murder Of Hae Min Lee

Back in 1999, as the Independent reports, a young woman named Hae Min Lee, 18, disappeared after leaving her Maryland high school for the day. A few weeks later, after extensive searching, her body was found in a shallow grave, having been murdered via strangulation, according to The Baltimore Sun. Her boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was charged with her murder, and would eventually be tried and convicted.

What followed would be two decades of Syed steadfastly maintaining his innocence, as well as the case coming up in a popular podcast, "Serial." Further still, the legal drama surrounding this murder dragged on for more than 20 years, with courts issuing various rulings as time wore on, culminating in the alleged murderer being released from prison in September 2022, pending a possible new trial.

For now, questions remain about whether or not Syed truly was Lee's killer, and if so, whether or not she will ever get justice. In Syed's case, the question is open as to whether he's a murderer, or was simply the victim of overzealous prosecutors, keen to put a man away for this crime despite significant problems with their case against him.

Hae Min Lee

Hae Min Lee was born in South Korea, according to The Baltimore Sun. When she was a preteen, she, her mother, and her brother emigrated to the United States and the family moved in with older relatives. Within a few years, she was a thriving teenager: she was a student-athlete at Woodlawn High School, where she participated in lacrosse and field hockey, and managed the wrestling team. She reportedly had career aspirations to be an optician.

At some point in her teen years, Lee began dating Adnan Syed, although as her brother, Young Lee, would later say that the family never met him, but that they were unaware of any problems between them.

Lee was last seen alive on January 13, 1999, after she left her school with the intention of picking up her niece and then going to her after-school job. After she failed to turn up, her family reported her missing, setting off searches as well as interviews with Lee's friends. Weeks later, her body was found.

Adnan Syed

Upon the discovery of Hae Min Lee's remains, attention turned to her boyfriend, Adnan Syed who was 17 at the time. As CNN reports, he was charged with first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping, and false imprisonment, and convicted of all charges. According to the Baltimore Sun, he was sentenced to life plus 30 years.

Prosecutors operated on the hypothesis that Lee had started dating another man and that Syed wasn't going to allow that to happen. "Solely because of hurt pride, he chose to kill," States Attorney Kevin Urick said at Syed's trial. Syed was convicted largely on the testimony of Anand's friend, Jay Wilds. According to The New York Times, Wilds testified that Syed had said he planned to kill Lee. Further, Wilds testified that he helped Syed bury Lee. Cell phone records purportedly corroborated Wilds' version of events. Further still, another witness, Jennifer Pusateri, also corroborated at least some of Wilds' testimony.

A New Trial?

Adnan Syed would steadfastly maintain his innocence, even as he was incarcerated and facing the possibility of never being a free man again. However, true-crime podcasts became popular while Syed was incarcerated, and in 2014, the podcast "Serial" took a look at his case.

The podcast pointed out multiple problems in the prosecutors' case against Syed, including the fact that a potential alibi never got the chance to testify; her testimony would have placed Syed at a local library instead of at the crime scene, according to The New York Times. Further still, Wilds' testimony was inconsistent, and the accuracy of the phone records that supposedly placed Syed at the crime scene have been called into question. What's more, The New York Times reported that there were two other suspects in the case that the prosecution knew about, yet they withheld that information from the defense during the original trial.

A vacated conviction and an appeal

On September 19, 2022, according to CNN, Maryland prosecutors vacated the conviction against the man convicted of killing Hae Min Lee. "Given the stunning lack of reliable evidence implicating Mr. Syed, coupled with increasing evidence pointing to other suspects, this unjust conviction cannot stand," said Adnan Syed's attorney, Erica Suter.

Syed was put on house arrest and had to wear an ankle monitor while prosecutors decided whether or not they wanted to try him again. As the Associated Press reports, judge Melissa Phinn gave the state 30 days to either set a new trial date or dismiss the case. "All right, Mr. Syed, you're free to join your family," Phinn said as she released Syed.

In March 2023, the Maryland appeals court ruled in favor of an appeal filed by Lee's family, claiming that they were not properly notified of the hearing overseeing the motion to vacate Syed's conviction. Per NBC News, the previous murder charges were reinstated after the ruling, and a new hearing will be held that addresses the evidence that supported the vacation of Syed's conviction.