The 1999 murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee is getting a fresh look in HBO's current documentary, The Case Against Adnan Syed

By Jeff Truesdell
March 31, 2019 04:14 PM
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The case of Adnan Syed, whose controversial conviction for killing his ex-high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999 propelled the podcast Serial and is now the subject of a currently airing HBO documentary series, has taken another turn.

In a tweet ahead of the four-part series’ broadcast finale, which aired Sunday, Syed’s attorney said that long-ignored DNA evidence in the case does not tie Syed, who is serving life in prison, to the strangulation murder of Lee. (An exclusive clip of the finale is above.)

“Recovered evidence in #AdnanSyed case was tested for DNA in the fall of 2018 and NOTHING was matched to Syed,” wrote the attorney, C. Justin Brown.

“This is significant,” Brown said in a separate statement to PEOPLE. “Of all the samples taken from and around the victim, none contained Syed’s DNA. Thus, after a thorough round of testing, there remains no forensic link between Syed and the crime.”

The DNA results were not previously made public. They do not, however, impact the verdict that found Syed guilty, according to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

“The DNA tests did not exonerate Syed,” the AG’s spokeswoman, Raquel Coombs, said in a statement to PEOPLE. “In addition, there was plenty of evidence introduced during the trial that led to his conviction.”

The HBO documentary series The Case Against Adnan Syed revisits the case several years after Serial attracted millions of listeners to its review of the crime and prosecution. Those who believe Syed is innocent have long pointed to the failures of his defense attorney, who is now deceased, which include the failure to call a potential alibi witness.

Both Lee, 18, and Syed, then 17, were successful and well-liked seniors at Baltimore’s Woodlawn High School. But they recently had broken up when Lee went missing after school on Jan. 13, 1999. Her partially buried body was discovered 27 days later by a hiker in Baltimore’s wooded Leakin Park.

Adnan Syed
Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty

Syed has always insisted on his innocence.

The heightened atmosphere of the 2000 trial found two minority communities — Lee was Korean, Syed was Pakistani-Muslim — confronting what they perceived as political bias in their conflicting bids for justice. The teens had carried out their romance largely in defiance of their parents, and prosecutors argued that Syed was an obsessed and jilted lover who should be denied bail because, although he was a U.S. citizen born and raised in Baltimore, he might flee to the Middle East.

Serial‘s examination of overlooked evidence helped Syed’s defenders win a court’s reconsideration of the case, and in 2016 his conviction was voided and a new trial was ordered.

Adnan Syed

But prosecutors continued to appeal as Syed remained behind bars — and this month, Maryland’s highest court ruled that Syed did not warrant a new trial and reinstated his conviction, reports the Baltimore Sun.

“There is no longer a case after the Court of Appeals decision earlier this month,” the attorney general’s office said in its statement to PEOPLE.

It’s unclear what Syed’s defense will do with the DNA results, from tests of fingernail clippings, blood samples, a liquor bottle and condom wrapper, reports the Sun. According to the documentary, those items went untested prior to Syed’s trial for murder.

“The state presented at trial a theory in which the victim was killed in a struggle inside her car,” Syed’s defense attorney said in his statement to PEOPLE. “The state argued that the struggle was violent enough that it caused damage to the inside of the vehicle. If such a struggle occurred, it seems likely that the assailant’s DNA would have been present under the victim’s fingernails, or somewhere else inside the car. The recent testing, however, found none.”

“While these DNA results do not reveal the true killer, they do go a long way in showing that the wrong person is in prison for this crime,” said Brown.

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It’s a theme the HBO documentary digs into by challenging the prosecution’s timeline and the memories of those whose statements helped to convict Syed. But the documentary never overlooks the victim, whose family believes Syed is the killer, even as some of Lee’s friends still wonder.

“If Adnan is not the perpetrator,” Debbie Warren, a high school classmate and friend of both, says in the documentary’s finale, “[Lee] would be equally concerned about his innocence coming to light as she would be finding the person who took her life, if he’s not the perpetrator.”

All four episodes of The Case Against Adnan Syed are currently available on HBO, HBO On Demand and HBO GO.