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Attorneys for Hae Min Lee’s family ask Maryland court for redo of hearing that vacated Adnan Syed’s conviction

<i>Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun/AP</i><br/>
Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun/AP

By Lauren Koenig, Michelle Watson and Christina Maxouris, CNN

Attorneys representing the family of Hae Min Lee, the teen whose 1999 killing was investigated on the “Serial” podcast, asked an appellate court on Thursday to redo a hearing that vacated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed — and to reinstate Syed’s conviction in the meantime.

Syed was accused of killing the teenager and served more than 20 years in prison before a judge vacated his conviction in a September hearing, leading to Syed’s release. Lee’s brother, Young Lee, requested a redo of that hearing, arguing in part that he didn’t have enough notice to attend in person.

Attorneys for Young Lee, who was able to watch September’s proceedings by Zoom, have alleged in court documents that prosecutors and the circuit court that overturned Syed’s conviction violated the brother’s rights. That happened, they allege, by failing to give him adequate notice, withholding evidence from the family and not giving the brother a proper chance to be heard at the proceedings.

David Sanford, who represents the Lee family, told Maryland’s appellate court on Thursday that the circuit court and prosecutors “failed repeatedly” ahead of September’s decision to vacate Syed’s conviction.

“The victim, or victim’s representative … has a right to be heard,” the attorney said.

Steve Kelly, another attorney for the family, told a three-judge panel that a new hearing would be “in compliance with the law.” When a judge asked Kelly if he thought Syed’s conviction should be reinstated if a new hearing is granted, Kelly responded: “Yes, your honor.”

But Syed’s attorney, Erica Suter, argued the appeal should be dismissed as moot, saying the criminal case against Syed no longer exists and claiming prosecutors took steps last year to “facilitate” Young Lee’s attendance in the September hearing.

Young Lee was in court Thursday wearing a black face mask. Syed was also present, sitting next to a family member.

“This court’s decision will neither bring back Hae Min Lee nor restore Adnan’s 23-and-a-half lost years,” Suter said during a news conference after Thursday’s hearing. “But what it can do is confirm that the lower court’s decision should stand.”

“It’s time, it is 23 years past time to let Adnan Syed live as a free man,” Syed’s attorney added. “All of us, together, look forward to the court’s ruling.”

Also after Thursday’s hearing, Sanford, the Lee family attorney, told reporters that their focus was to ensure proceedings were done fairly and the victim’s family had a proper opportunity to participate.

“We’re not on a campaign to have Adnan Syed put back in jail. That’s not what this is about. This is about respecting victims and their representatives in a very, very troubling process,” Sanford said.

A decision in the case is expected by summer, Sanford said.

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