It’s been more than two decades since the body of Woodlawn High School senior Hae Min Lee was found at Leakin Park in West Baltimore, Maryland. For years, it seemed like an open-and-shut case. In 2000, Lee’s ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, who has maintained his innocence, was sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison for her murder. Then Syed’s case garnered national attention after it became the subject of the podcast Serial in 2014.
Syed’s conviction was vacated in September 2022, but this March, a Maryland appellate court reinstated it due to a procedural issue. On Wednesday, Syed’s legal team asked the Maryland Supreme Court to review that appellate decision.
The legal saga has had many twists and turns, but there might be just as many questions surrounding the case now as there were then. Meanwhile, justice for Lee remains elusive.
What is certain is that the 18-year-old woman was last seen on January 13, 1999, driving her 1998 Nissan Sentra on her way to pick up her 6-year-old cousin and then head to her job at LensCrafters, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time. She never showed up to either.
Professionals and amateurs, alike, have scrutinized and studied Lee’s murder and Adnan Syed’s trial and subsequent legal proceedings, including the U.S. Supreme Court denying to hear an appeal for a new trial in 2019. Here, we piece together the timeline of accounts as they reportedly happened in the 1999 teen murder case.
December 1998: Syed and Lee break up.
Although their relationship was kept a secret because of both religious and cultural differences, classmates Syed and Lee dated in 1998 and broke up in December of that year, according to court records.
January 1, 1999: Lee and Don Clinedinst go on their first date.
According to the Undisclosed podcast, Lee goes on her first date with her LensCrafter co-worker Don Clinedinst, who happens to be the son of the store manager.
January 13, 1999: Lee disappears.
What happened on this particular day depends on who you talk to. As described by Syed to Serial, he goes to his photography and English classes and then calls his friend Jay Wilds, offering to lend him his car during his lunch period. Wilds then drops Syed back off at school, where he has a free period and then arrives late to his psychology class—it started at 12:50 p.m., but he entered at 1:27 p.m., as his teacher notes.
After class, he goes to the Woodlawn Public Library to check his email and chats with friend Asia McClain. Then he goes to track practice. Wilds picks him up, and the two go to a friend’s house. It’s while he’s there that Officer Scott Adcock calls Syed asking if he knew where Lee was. The student told the official that “he was suppose[d] to get a ride home from the victim, but he got detained at school and felt that she just got tired of waiting and left,” according to the 2019 appeal. Syed then picks up food on his way to meet his dad at the mosque for evening prayers, Serial reported.
Meanwhile, Wilds’ version of the day changed throughout his interviews and testimony. In his testimony at the second trial, he says that he and Syed drove to Security Square Mall and claims that Syed reportedly told him he was going to kill Lee. That afternoon, he says that Syed asked him to pick him up at Best Buy, where Syed shows him Lee’s body in the trunk of her car. They leave the car at a park-and-ride lot. That night they bury Lee’s body in Leakin Park and leave her car in a residential parking lot.
As for Lee’s family, all they knew was that she didn’t show up to pick up her cousin, which is when they reported her missing. Classmates last saw her leaving school around 2:15 p.m.
February 9, 1999: Lee’s body is found in Leakin Park.
Maintenance worker Alonzo Sellers, known as “Mr. S” on Serial, claimed he was drinking a 22-ounce Budweiser while driving when he made a pit stop. “I had to go to the bathroom so I pulled over, and I went further in the woods so no one could see me,” he said on the HBO docuseries The Case Against Adnan Syed. “I walked around through the bushes and everything, and I got back that way, and I was getting ready to urinate. When I looked down, I seen something that looked like hair, something was covered by the dirt. And I looked real good again, and that’s when I seen what looked like a foot.” He later becomes a suspect because he walked 127 feet to find a place to use the restroom. Sellers had a previous record as an alleged streaker. Autopsy results later show that Lee was strangled, The Baltimore Sun reports.
February 12, 1999: Anonymous calls inform the police to look into Syed.
Baltimore City police detective Darryl Massey received two anonymous phone calls telling him to look into Lee’s ex-boyfriend as a possible suspect, the Undisclosed podcast reported. There was a reward of $3,075 from CrimeStoppers for information on the case leading to the indictment.
February 28, 1999: Syed is arrested.
In the wee hours of the night, Lee’s car is found around 4:30 a.m., and around 6 a.m., Syed is arrested at his home on the 7000 block of Johnnycake Road. He is 17 at the time but charged with first-degree murder as an adult. Lee’s 16-year-old brother, Young Lee, speaking for his grandparents and mom, tells The Baltimore Sun that the news provided “some closure and some peace.” But they were just as shocked. “We were kind of surprised because she told us that he was one of her best friends,” he said.
March 1, 1999: McClain writes Syed a letter.
Just after his arrest, McClain writes a letter to Syed and details talking to him in the library on January 13, Serial reported.
December 15, 1999: A mistrial is declared.
The Syed’s trial begins the second week of December and quickly ends as a mistrial, the court appeals papers say.
January 2000: The second trial begins.
A second court proceedings begin, the papers say.
February 25, 2000: Syed is convicted.
Following a six-week trial and two-hour jury deliberation, Syed is found guilty. He remains calm as handcuffs are being put on him, saying, “I’ll be alright... I have faith in the Lord. I know I didn’t kill her. The Lord knows I didn’t kill her,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
March 25, 2000: McClain writes an affidavit.
Family friend and attorney Rabia Chaudry asks McClain to write an affidavit after Syed is convicted, Serial reported.
June 6, 2000: Lee’s mother gives an emotional testimony, and Syed is given a life sentence.
Lee’s mother, Youn Wha Kim, says she moved to America from Korea to give her kids a better life. “I would like to forgive Adnan Syed, but as of now, I just don’t know how I could,” she says. “When I die, my daughter will die with me. As long as I live, my daughter is buried in my heart.” The paper says she almost collapsed as she stepped off the witness stand and that her sobs from outside the courtroom could still be heard inside. Judge Wanda K. Heard gives Syed a life sentence plus 30 years.
March 19, 2003: Syed’s appeal is denied.
Syed’s first appeal is denied by the Court of Special Appeals, according to court records.
December 30, 2013: Syed’s petition for post-conviction relief is denied.
After hearings in the Circuit Court between November 2010 and October 2012, Syed’s petition for post-conviction relief is denied, according to court papers.
October 3, 2014: Serial debuts.
The creators of the public radio show This American Life debut the podcast series Serial, hosted by Sarah Koenig, about the Lee murder mystery. In it, Koenig talks to Syed who says he is innocent.
November 20, 2014: Syed’s family gives their first interview.
Syed’s brother Yusef talks to CBS This Morning and admits he listens to the Serial podcast. “I wake up as soon as they put it on,” he said. “Some days I’ll be like, ‘This is a really great episode,’ and some days I’ll feel down and depressed.”
February 6, 2015: Syed can appeal the post-conviction relief denial.
Syed is given the chance to overturn the Baltimore City Circuit Court ruling that denied him post-conviction relief, thanks to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Vulture reported.
November 6, 2015: The post-conviction relief case is reopened.
The case is reopened to take into account McClain’s new testimony, new cell phone data, and allegations of “ineffective assistance of counsel” as well as “prosecutorial misconduct,” according to Harper’s Bazaar.
February 2016: The hearing takes place.
The five-day hearing includes witness testimonies from McClain, as well as a cell phone expert, Harper’s Bazaar reported.
June 30, 2016: Syed is granted a new trial.
Justice Martin Welch vacates the original conviction, saying there should be a new trial. However, Syed is not allowed out on bail while he waits for the new trial. He ends up waiting more than two years.
March 8, 2019: The trial is then denied.
In a sudden twist, the Maryland Court of Appeals votes 4 to 3 to reverse the decision, denying a new trial saying, “There is not a significant or substantial possibility that the verdict would have been different,” the Associated Press reported.
August 19, 2019: The Supreme Court is asked to look at the case.
Syed’s lawyers asked the nation’s highest court to look into reversing the state’s decision.
November 25, 2019: The Supreme Court rejects bid for a new trial.
Without comment, the Supreme Court decided not to open a new trial. “We are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court, but by no means is this the end of Adnan Syed,” attorney C. Justin Brown told AP at the time. “There are other legal options, and we are exploring each and every one of them.” Family friend and lawyer Chaudry added: “He is hanging in there. He knows that none of us are basically giving up. He has a great legal team. He has a lot of public support, and walking away is not an option.”
September 19, 2022: Syed’s conviction is vacated.
Baltimore City Circuit Court judge Melissa M. Phinn vacated Syed’s conviction, effectively setting him free. 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.
October 11, 2022: Prosecutors drop charges against Syed.
Prosecutors dropped all charges against Syed, eliminating the possibility of a retrial.
December 12, 2022: Georgetown University hires Syed.
Syed began a full-time job as a program associate for the Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative, the Washington Post reported. 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.
March 28, 2023: Syed’s conviction is reinstated.
In a 2-1 decision, a Maryland appellate court panel reinstated Syed’s murder conviction after deciding a lower court violated the right of Lee’s family to attend the September 2022 hearing in the case in person, the Washington Post reported. The decision ordered that the Baltimore Circuit Court conduct a new “legally compliant, transparent hearing” on prosecutors’ motion to vacate the case, after Young Lee, who lived in California, argued he received less than one business day’s notice of the hearing at which Syed was freed. Lee attended the September hearing via Zoom. The court’s latest decision is delayed 60 days to allow the parties involved time to assess how to proceed. For now, Syed remains free outside of prison.
May 24, 2023: Syed asks the Maryland Supreme Court for a review.
Syed’s attorney files a motion asking the Maryland Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s decision that reversed his vacated conviction, according to CNN. The motion seeks further evaluation of Young Lee’s stance that he wasn’t given appropriate notice of the 2022 hearing at which Syed was freed. Syed’s attorneys argue Young had confirmed he would attend the hearing via Zoom.
Tyler Piccotti joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had worked almost eight years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. He is a graduate of Syracuse University, an avid sports fan, a frequent moviegoer, and trivia buff.