'Serial' podcast subject Adnan Syed asks for release from prison

'Serial' podcast subject Adnan Syed asks for release from prison
Adnan Syed is escorted from a courthouse earlier this year. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Adnan Syed, the "Serial" podcast subject whose murder conviction was overturned this summer, is asking for a judge to grant his release as he awaits a new trial.

The petition filed Monday by his defense team said Syed would be no danger to the community and that they have a social worker lined up to help him transition out of prison, where he has spent the last 17 years without any behavior problems. It also points to the "crumbling" case against him and raises new accusations about his former co-defendant, Jay Wilds, who was a key witness against him at trial.


"Syed has been waiting 17 years to get back into court to prove his innocence," his attorneys wrote. "With that moment within his grasp, there is no reason to think he would now abscond from justice and risk everything he has accomplished to date."

After failed attempts to overturn his conviction, the case became the subject of the blockbuster "Serial" podcast, which raised questions about the case against him.

It is rare for someone facing a violent crime punishable by life in prison to be released pending trial. But Syed's attorneys say it is allowed under the law, and that Syed is a good candidate for such an exception.

Syed was convicted by a Baltimore jury in 2000 of killing ex-girlfriend and Woodlawn High School classmate Hae Min Lee, whose body was found buried in Leakin Park. After years of appeals and following the success of "Serial," Syed's attorneys successfully argued to a city judge that questions over key evidence should prompt a new trial.

The state is appealing, a process the defense said could take years.

Steve Silverman, a Baltimore attorney who is not involved in the case, said judges are "historically reluctant to give a bail with charges of this nature."

But, he said, "the unusual circumstances involving the granting of a new trial and questioning of tenuous evidence and procedure could tilt the scales towards a court considering a bail. If there was a bail, it would most likely be a very high bail, and whether someone or a bondsman wants to take a risk is another question."

Prior to his arrest, Syed had no history of violence, and has been a model inmate while locked up in a maximum security prison over the last 17 years, his attorneys said.

"Prisons are among the most violent places in our society, yet Syed has not been cited for a single violent act in 17 years in that environment," his attorneys wrote.

Department of Corrections records refer to him as an "excellent" worker who "requires minimal supervision" and is "always very respectful to staff." In 2009, he was caught with a contraband cellphone, but has never been cited for a fight or insubordination, they said.

In deciding whether to grant bail, the court takes into consideration whether a defendant is a flight risk — something that is not a concern in Syed's case, his attorneys said.

A significant portion of the petition is spent attacking the state's case, including Wilds, who testified that Syed showed him Lee's body and confessed to strangling her. Wilds testified that they buried the body together. He pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and served no jail time.

Syed's attorneys said Wilds' story has shifted and changed, and that his credibility will be further undermined by his interactions with law enforcement in recent years.

Since his testimony, "Wilds has been arrested, convicted or investigated by police more than 20 times," they wrote, including an "ominous history of being charged for incidents of rage and violence against women."


They've pulled police reports involving Wilds and contacted one ex-girlfriend who said Wilds had choked her out of jealousy.

"Under these circumstances, the nature of the evidence in this case tilts decidedly in favor or releasing Syed before another jury has the unenviable task of sorting through the inconsistencies in the brand-new story that Wilds will inevitably tell," Syed's attorneys wrote.

Wilds did not participate in "Serial," where his account of the events was challenged. In an interview with "the Intercept," Wilds said he had not been truthful with police about some aspects of his story but maintained that he had helped dispose of the body.

"There's nothing that's gonna change the fact that this guy drove up in front of my grandmother's house, popped the trunk and had his dead girlfriend in the trunk," Wilds told the Intercept.

Efforts to reach Wilds on Monday were unsuccessful.

Silverman, the attorney who is not involved in the case, said at bail hearings judges are supposed to evaluate the nature of the charges, the risk of flight and danger to the community — not the disputed facts of the case.

But, he said, such arguments can often "leak into the proceeding." "It may not be statutorily correct to argue facts at a bail hearing, but it happens," Silverman said. "Judges are humans, and they will consciously or subconsciously take into consideration the likelihood of success of the prosecution."

Fenton writes for the Baltimore Sun.