Adnan Syed Did Not Kill Hae Min Lee 

By Nupur Kudapkar 

Adnan Syed did not kill Hae Min Lee. A love story for the books, 1998- Baltimore, Maryland a handsome football player devoted to his religion and a stunning young woman who was loved by all started dating, what could go wrong? All of this came to an end when she was discovered murdered in Leakin Park and Adnan Syed was accused of killing her. On Monday, September 19, 2022, 23 years after Adnan Syed’s conviction, Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn overturned Syed’s first-degree murder conviction, granting prosecutors 30 days to decide whether to drop the murder charge against Syed or retry him for murder in the death of his ex-girlfriend.

January 13, 1999— Hae Min Lee, a senior at Woodlawn High School went missing. She measured up to her status, brilliant, and beautiful, but primarily, responsible. That day, after school she was supposed to go pick up her cousin from school but she did not show up, her family immediately knew that something was wrong. On February 12, 1999, six weeks after Hae went missing, her body appeared in Leakin Park, which is infamous for its bodies (about 80 have been discovered). A maintenance worker who claimed he stopped to take a leak on his way to work noticed her body. He had seen a strand of her dark black hair peeking out of a shallow grave. The cause of death? Manual strangulation. Soon after, Adnan got detained and charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend. 

How did the police decide to prosecute Adnan Syed for Hae Min Lee’s murder? The state’s case against Adnan was based on one young man’s story, Jay Wild. Jay was a drug dealer and an acquaintance of Adnan’s; they sometimes smoked weed together and had a few mutual friends. The story Jay told the police had problems as it kept changing from telling to telling but the first story from the first interview went like this: at 10:45 a.m. Jay gets a call from Adnan, then an hour later at 11:45 a.m. Adnan arrives at Jay’s house to go to Westview Mall to get Jay’s girlfriend a birthday gift. During this time Adnan tells Jay about his plans to kill Hae, however, Jay does not believe him and dismisses the comments. After their trip, at 12:30 p.m. Jay drops Adnan off at school, but Adnan lets Jay keep his car and phone. Jay then proceeds to go to his girlfriend’s house for about three hours until he gets a call from Adnan at 3:40 p.m. to meet him at a “strip” off Edmondson Avenue. When Jay arrives at 4 p.m., Adnan shows him Hae’s body curled up in the back of her car. He had strangled her at the local Best Buy parking lot and called Jay from the pay phone there. Shocked and scared, Jay helps Adnan ditch Hae’s car at the I-70 Park and Ride parking lot, then from 4:35-5:05 p.m., they smoke a blunt at Patapsco State Park for thirty minutes. Keep in mind, Patapsco State Park is about a 20-minute drive from the Park and Ride and Woodlawn High School. However, despite this, Jay noted that at 4:30 he drops Adnan off to track practice and heads home. At the trial, Adnan’s track coach said practice ran from about 4:00 p.m. until 5:30 – 6:00 p.m. but at 6:45 p.m. the state says that Adnan calls Jay to pick him up from practice. Lastly, from 7-7:30 p.m., Adnan and Jay visit McDonald’s, and while they eat, the cops contact Adnan and ask for any information about Hae. After leaving McDonald’s, they go to Jay’s place to get a pick and shovel and proceed to get Hae’s car at the Park and Ride parking lot. Jay is driving Adnan’s car while Adnan is driving Hae’s. As soon as they reach Leakin Park, Adnan and Jay bury Hae’s body in the forest. However, after denying it first, he then clarifies that he did not assist Adnan in hiding the body and simply remained back. After leaving Leakin Park, Adnan and Jay continue to drive around until abandoning Hae’s car in a neighborhood parking lot. Adnan then deposits Hae’s belongings and the shovel in a Westview Mall dumpster. After Jay and Adnan visit a 7-Eleven, Adnan drives Jay and he tells his girlfriend, Jenn, that Adnan killed Hae. Jenn supposedly told the detectives that she took Jay to throw his clothes out the next day. This to reiterate is the first story from the first interview, but if you click this link, then you can see that Jay’s story from the first interview, to the second, to the second trial keeps changing and altering dramatically. Adnan’s story is quite different, only corroborating certain parts such as Jay lending him his car, Jay dropping Adnan off at school (although he mentions that they did not go shopping), track practice, Jay picking him up from the practice, going to Jay’s girlfriend’s friend’s house together (mentioned by Jay in the second interview), and the police calling looking for Hae. During the trial, prosecutors argued he was a scorned lover who had strangled Hae in a fit of rage. Hae and Adnan both had immigrant parents which meant no drugs, no sex, no parties, and no especially dating. After their breakup, they both moved quickly to date new people. Adnan started talking to a few girls, while Hae had Don Clinedinst as her new boyfriend (who was cleared in the case due to his mom being his alibi at the family store the night Hae went missing). Adnan Syed was ultimately convicted guilty of premeditated murder, abduction, robbery, and false imprisonment by a jury verdict.

Errors can be discovered within the state’s case. For example, the investigators insist that Hae’s murder occurred at 2:36 p.m. This sequence would be illogical, according to Adnan’s account of the events of the day, he went to the Woodlawn Public Library to check his email on the school computer. This is when he meets Asia McClain, a key witness in the case, who claimed in repeated letters to Syed in 1999, that she and a friend saw him in the library around the time Hae was murdered. While the defense did not use her letters or testimony during the initial murder trial, her accusation was resurrected when she appeared on the podcast Serial. To reiterate, Adnan had gone to the library, and Hae was in a hurry; she normally bought a snack at the food cart outside the school gym before leaving, however, Hae was also the wrestling team manager. That particular day, the team had a contest that she had to drive to, and Hae had to pick up her cousin from school. Summer, a friend of Hae’s, was with her in the gym chatting; they were arguing, since Summer was also a team manager and she did not want to go to the match alone. This version of the story provided a massive break in the case as this young woman had placed Hae at the time of her alleged murder, in the school gym. 

The prosecution’s time frame of the crime proves: illogical. According to the state, Hae died between 2:15 and 2:36 p.m. in the Best Buy parking lot, roughly a mile from Woodlawn High School. A short time for committing the murder: a twenty-one-minute window. Adnan wrote to Sarah Koenig, host of the podcast Serial mentioning, “which may seem like a long time but it is virtually impossible if you consider the following facts, when the final bell rings at 2:15, you can’t just leave and jump in your car, there are 1,500 other students filling the hallways and stairwells of a four story building then you have to get out of the school parking lot, but the parking lot is encircled by the school bus loop, so you can’t get your car out until the buses fill up and leave which took about ten to fifteen minutes” (Serial). He further mentioned that, despite being close to the school, the route to Best Buy has multiple major junctions and is congested at that time. Then there’s the murder. How could he strangle Hae, a tall, robust, athletic girl, and then drag her body from the car to the trunk and place her in there in broad daylight and then call Jay from the payphone and request that he meet him there? How was everything completed in twenty-one minutes? Koenig and her colleagues evaluated the state chronology and concluded, it does appear far-fetched since there’s no opportunity for any errors. The buses, the journey, the strangling, the movement of the body, the phone call. They all have to happen as soon as possible for the 2:36 “come get me” call to Jay. However, it is conceivable or, at the very least, not impossible. Furthermore, Best Buy’s entire story is a fraud. Jay was a drug dealer who sold marijuana from his grandmother’s house, so in order to protect her, he told police that he spotted Hae’s body at Best Buy.

Another item to consider: Adnan’s alleged call to Jay from the Best Buy pay phone. It never existed as development plans never included a phone there. Aside from Jay’s evidence, the state’s case against Adnan relied heavily on mobile phone towers to link his arriving and outgoing calls to the crime. The prosecution’s case against Adnan, summarized in three words: Leakin Park Pings. The prosecution contended — and continues to maintain — that Adnan’s cell phone pinged a mobile tower in Leakin Park when Jay informed police in his interview about where Hae inhabited at the time of her death, the times lined up almost perfectly which, is sufficient enough to prove Adnan’s guilt. How come the tower pings provided the inaccurate location for 16 of the 22 calls while the prosecution’s evidence established the phone’s location at the time of the call? How can we believe that the tower pings simply happened to appear correct for the Leakin Park tower pings, if the tower pings prove accurate only 27% of the time, as the prosecution’s premise of the case suggests? (The Perspective of LL2). In addition, Adnan’s lawyer, Christina Gutierrez, did not know how to use mobile phone towers, which injured his overall case. 

His attorneys also urged him not to testify at his trial, which might have led Jurors to believe his guilt due to not speaking up to defend himself. Sarah Koenig asks Deirdre Enright, who runs the innocence project clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law, “…do you get cases- because in Adnan’s case… there’s not gross negligence or malfeasance or something on the part of the detectives or the State Attorney’s office, everyone seems to be doing their job, responsibly’”. Enright responds, “‘that’s kinda–I love hearing that because somewhere along the line I’ve started realizing that when you have an innocent client, they are the least helpful people in the whole world because they don’t know” (Serial). In addition to Enright’s comments, Jim Trainum: a homicide detective for Metro Washington, DC. told Konieg, “‘I don’t believe Jay’s version. I think that there is a lot more to it than that. I feel that he’s definitely minimizing his involvement. To either protect himself, he’s doing it for one of three reasons: to protect himself, to protect somebody else, or because Adnan did it and was right there with him,’” Trainum believes we will find the answers we need during the unrecorded pre-interview hours, a vital information void. Since this was not entirely captured, there mimicked gaps that we will never be able to cover. (Serial). Finally, and most importantly, there exemplified evidence to show Adnan Syed’s innocence: two unnamed suspects whom police never examined.

As of Monday, September 19, 2022, Adnan Syed exists as a free man, and according to The Baltimore Sun, the sentence was reversed “after prosecutors raised issues about his guilty finding due to the disclosure of other suspects in the killing and untrustworthy evidence used against him at trial.” Syed, 41, has settled on home detention while the Baltimore State Attorney’s office considers whether to seek a retrial or dismiss the charges completely (The Baltimore Sun). Within the next few weeks, the people will know if Adnan Syed embodies a truly free man or if he remains a ruthless killer as seen by the court all those years ago. However, in my opinion, Adnan Syed did not kill Hae Min Lee. If you would like to learn more, I would suggest listening to Serial, a podcast that deep drives into the case.