Jump to:

  • Who Is Adnan Syed?
  • Quick Facts
  • Early Life
  • Relationship with Hae Min Lee
  • Hae Min Lee’s Murder
  • Arrest, Trial, and Conviction
  • Appeals
  • Georgetown University Position
  • Adnan Syed in the Media

Who Is Adnan Syed?

Adnan Syed was convicted for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Syed and Lee were seniors at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore when she disappeared on January 13, 1999. Her half-buried body was found one month later in a nearby city park, and the cause of death was ruled manual strangulation. In February 2000, Syed was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, with an additional 30 years. Syed has always maintained his innocence. In 2014, his case was revisited by journalist and radio personality Sarah Koenig on the podcast Serial—which placed doubt on his guilty verdict—and was catapulted into the international spotlight. In 2016, Syed was granted a retrial by a Baltimore city circuit court judge, but that decision was appealed and ultimately overruled in 2019 by the Maryland Court of Appeals, denying Syed a new trial. In 2022, following investigations that uncovered new evidence, prosecutors dropped all charged against Syed in October 2022, vacating his conviction and effectively exonerating him. In March 2023, a Maryland appellate court reinstated his conviction due to a procedural issue.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Adnan Masud Syed
BORN: May 21, 1981
BIRTHPLACE: Baltimore, Maryland

Early Life

Adnan Syed was born on May 21, 1981, in Baltimore, Maryland to conservative Muslim parents, Shamim and Syed Rahman. As the middle child, Syed is one of three sons; Tanveer is his older brother, and Yusuf is his younger brother.

Not much has been reported on Syed’s life or family in detail. At Woodlawn High School, Syed was popular and a straight-A student. He was the homecoming king and played on the varsity football team and worked part-time for a paramedic service.

Relationship with Hae Min Lee

Just like Syed, Hae Min Lee was popular at school. The Korean American was a member of the lacrosse and field hockey team, managed the boy’s wrestling team, and had dreams of being an optician. She and Syed kept their relationship a secret from their conservative immigrant families, but eventually, the secrecy frustrated Lee, which was what purportedly drove a wedge between them. After they broke up, Lee began to date a man named Don Clinedinst, who worked with her at a local LensCrafters.

Hae Min Lee’s Murder

On January 13, 1999, Lee, who was 18, was reported missing by her family after failing to come home. Four weeks later, her half-buried body was found at Leakin Park by a passerby. According to autopsy reports, she died of manual strangulation.

Arrest, Trial, and Conviction

After a police investigation, in which Syed’s friend Jay Wilds confessed he had helped Syed bury Lee’s body, Syed was arrested on February 28, 1999, and charged with kidnapping and murdering Lee.

Although prosecutors couldn’t offer any physical evidence against Syed, they used Wilds’ testimony along with the testimony of a corroborating witness, Jennifer Pusateri, who claimed that Wilds had told her Syed confessed to Lee’s murder and had shown him the body.

According to Wilds, Syed was angry that Lee had broken up with him and murdered her out of revenge. The other piece of evidence that helped the prosecution’s case included cell tower records, which had confirmed some of Wilds’ timeline of how events occurred. Although Syed maintained his innocence, he was convicted in February 2000 of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.

Since Syed’s conviction, Wilds has changed his story multiple times, and recent analysis of Wilds’ police interviews suggests he had been heavily coached by the Baltimore police.


adnan syed wears a blue prison outfit, a gray cap, and handcuffs, he is looking toward the camera from behind bars and three officers are in the vicinity
Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service//Getty Images

Syed began appealing his case in 2003 but to no avail. He appealed again in 2010, but this time on the basis of “ineffective assistance of counsel.” Syed claimed that his attorney at the time, Cristina Gutierrez, did not look into an alibi witness, Asia McClain, who said she was with Syed at Woodlawn High School’s library at the time of the murder. In addition to McClain, Syed’s appeals lawyer also brought into consideration the unreliability of the cell tower records evidence from the original trial.

In June 2016, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Martin Welch granted Syed a retrial, which was upheld on March 29, 2018, by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. However, a year later, the state’s highest court rejected the lower court’s decision by a 4-3 vote, denying Syed a retrial. It asserted that, regardless of the shortcomings of Syed’s original legal counsel, the recent evidence being presented wouldn’t have altered the jury’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court also denied to hear Syed’s case in November 2019, leaving in place the Maryland court’s decision. The seeming dead end was not to be, however.

Baltimore City Circuit Court judge Melissa M. Phinn vacated Syed’s conviction, effectively setting him free on September 19, 2022. Phinn’s decision came after prosecutors told the court they lost faith in Syed’s conviction in light of new evidence and violations in the government’s turning over evidence. On October 11 of that year, prosecutors dropped all charges against Syed, eliminating the possibility of a retrial.

On March 28, 2023, a Maryland appeals court reinstated Syed’s murder conviction after ruling that a lower court did not give Hae Min Lee’s family sufficient notice to attend the hearing on the state’s motion to vacate the conviction. In a 2-1 decision, the appellate court ruled that this violated state law and the rights of the family and ordered that a new hearing be held. Syed is not required to be re-incarcerated prior to the new hearing, according to media reports.

Georgetown University Position

Following his fall 2022 release, Syed began a full-time job as a program associate for the Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative in December 2022. One of his roles is providing support for an undergraduate class called Making an Exoneree, in which students seek to help free innocent people in prison by examining their cases and creating documentaries.

Adnan Syed in the Media

Thanks to the worldwide popularity of Serial, Syed’s case captured public interest and spawned a plethora of media projects.

His advocate, family friend, and lawyer Rabia Chaudry, launched her own podcast entitled Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed and also published a book in 2016 titled Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial. Also in 2016, McClain produced her own book, Confessions of a Serial Alibi, and Investigation Discovery premiered the documentary Adnan Syed: Innocent or Guilty?

In March 2019, HBO launched a four-part documentary entitled The Case Against Adnan Syed, based on the case’s evolution since its broadcast on Serial.

Citation Information

  • Article Title: Adnan Syed Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • URL: https://www.biography.com/crime/adnan-syed
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: March 29, 2023
  • Original Published Date: March 21, 2019
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Headshot of Colin McEvoy
Colin McEvoy
Senior News Editor, Biography.com

Colin McEvoy joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy. He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.