Family of ‘Serial’ podcast murder victim demands right to take part in hearings

Jun 8, 2023, 12:33 PM

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The family of the murder victim whose case is chronicled by the hit podcast “Serial” asked Maryland’s highest court on Thursday to give crime victims a right to be heard and challenge evidence at hearings.

Young Lee, whose sister Hae Min Lee was killed in 1999, says the family didn’t get sufficient notice to attend a hearing last fall where the man convicted of her murder, Adnan Syed, had his sentence overturned. An intermediate appellate court agreed with the family and reinstated Syed’s sentence, although he remains free while the case works its way through the courts.

On Thursday, attorneys for Young Lee filed a petition asking the state Supreme Court to review legal issues raised by the family. The petition says the intermediate appellate court ruling falls short because it “leaves no one to speak on the Lee family’s behalf.”

While Syed’s release last year was a high-profile example of a growing movement within the criminal justice system to acknowledge and correct past mistakes, the ongoing case in Maryland appellate courts has highlighted questions about the rights of crime victims.

Last September, Young Lee was notified on a Friday afternoon that the hearing would take place the following Monday. Lee lives in California, and the hearing would take place in Maryland. When the hearing began, an attorney representing the family requested a one-week postponement so Lee could travel to Baltimore. A judge denied the request but allowed Lee to address the court via Zoom.

“The Maryland Declaration of Rights requires that state agents treat crime victims with dignity, respect and sensitivity,” said David Sanford, an attorney for the family, in a news release Thursday. “Young Lee should have the right to meaningfully participate in a hearing that could potentially vacate a murder conviction.”

Syed, who has always maintained his innocence, was freed after prosecutors reviewed the case and found alternative suspects as well as unreliable evidence used at trial.

In the news release announcing Thursday’s court filing, Lee’s attorneys said the family “does not take a position on Mr. Syed’s underlying guilt or innocence, only that Mr. Lee receive the procedural rights he is owed, and that the circuit court proceed in an open and transparent manner.”

An attorney for Syed also filed a petition last month asking the state Supreme Court to overturn the reinstatement of his conviction.

Syed was 17 when Hae Min Lee, his high school ex-girlfriend and classmate, was found strangled to death and buried in a makeshift grave in 1999. He was arrested weeks later and ultimately convicted of murder in 2000. He received life in prison, plus 30 years.

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Family of ‘Serial’ podcast murder victim demands right to take part in hearings