‘Serial’ case: Adnan Syed released and murder conviction quashed over death of Hae Min Lee

Martin Stew reports on the release of Adnan Syed from prison after his murder conviction was overturned by a US judge.

A US judge has ordered the release of Adnan Syed, whose conviction for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee was investigated in the hit true crime podcast "Serial."

The judge in Baltimore quashed the 2000 conviction on Monday and ordered the release of the 41-year-old, who has spent more than 20 years behind bars.

Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn ruled that the state violated its legal obligation to share evidence that could have bolstered Mr Syed’s defence.

She ordered Mr Syed to be placed on home detention with GPS location monitoring. The judge also said the state must decide whether to seek a new trial date or dismiss the case within 30 days.

Supporters gathered outside after the Judge gave her verdict. Credit: AP

Speaking to reporters in Baltimore, his lawyer Marilyn Mosby praised her team, saying: "My sentencing review unit is responsible for the year long collaborative investigation into this case and today's motion to vacate the conviction of Adnan Syed".

She also singled out assistant state’s attorney Becky Feldman, saying she had lead "nearly a year long, exhaustive investigation, reviewing the substantive facts of this case where several problematic issues were presented, and thereafter leading my office to file a motion to vacate the conviction of Adnan Syed."

Credit: AP

Mr Syed had always maintained his innocence. His case rose to popularity with the debut of Serial in 2014, which ignited worldwide interest in "true crime" genre podcasting.

The first series of the podcast extensively went over Ms Min Lee's murder and Mr Syed's trial.

Although it made no definitive findings that could have unequivocally proved Mr Syed's innocence it did highlight multiple flaws in the way the police, the justice system and Mr Syed's own lawyers handled the case.

The open-ended conclusion to the podcast spawned a huge debate about the case and the wider US justice system.

Many listeners believed Mr Syed was innocent based on the information the podcast presented and have campaigned for his release.

Last week, prosecutors filed a motion saying that a lengthy investigation conducted with the defence had uncovered new evidence that could undermine Mr Syed's conviction.

Adnan Syed enters Courthouse East prior to a hearing on Feb. 3, 2016, in Baltimore. Credit: AP/ The Baltimore Sun

"I understand how difficult this is, but we need to make sure we hold the correct person accountable," Ms Feldman told the judge, as she described various details from the case that undermine the decades-old conviction, including flawed cellphone data, unreliable witness testimony and a potentially biased detective.

Mr Syed was serving a life sentence after he was convicted of strangling 18-year-old Ms Lee, whose body was found buried in a Baltimore park.

The lawyer for Mr Syed spoke outside the court. Credit: AP

The investigation "revealed undisclosed and newly-developed information regarding two alternative suspects, as well as unreliable cell phone tower data," State Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office said in a news release last week.

The suspects were known persons at the time of the original investigation, but weren’t properly ruled out nor disclosed to the defence, said prosecutors, who declined to release information about the suspects, due to the ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors said they weren’t asserting that Mr Syed is innocent, but they lacked confidence "in the integrity of the conviction" and recommended he be released on bail.

The state’s attorney’s office had said if the motion were granted it would effectively put Mr Syed in a new trial status, vacating his convictions, while the case remained active.