Springing Adnan Syed is Mosby’s final insult to Baltimore


Marilyn Mosby’s tenure as Baltimore’s chief prosecutor has been an unmitigated disaster for Charm City, highlighted by her persistent refusal to prosecute the guilty. Now, on her way out the door after being deposed by a disgusted electorate, Mosby has one final insult for her beleaguered constituents: freeing a convicted murderer.

Elected in 2014, Mosby was one of the first officials to run on a platform of de-prosecution, decarceration, and demonizing the police. The results were predictable. Homicides in Baltimore rose above 300 murders per year for every year Mosby was in office, a brutally high number for a midsize city; this year may set a new record.

Citizens have fled, with Baltimore’s population dropping by 35,000 people from 2010 to 2020. Now, Mosby is under federal indictment for perjury and submitting false statements in an alleged attempt to swindle the federal government for Covid-19 relief funds to buy a vacation home in Florida.

It’s little wonder that Baltimoreans finally voted her out of office in the 2022 Democratic primary, nominating instead a prosecutor who promises to try to restore order.

With the city reeling and her reputation in tatters, the safest exit strategy for Mosby would have been to wind down her role quietly, hoping that nobody noticed as she skulked off to face her federal charges. Instead, Mosby is reinforcing her de-prosecution credentials, executing on a plan to free Adnan Syed, convicted of killing a teenage girl.

In 2000, a jury convicted Syed of murdering his ex-girlfriend, 18-year-old high-school student Hae Min Lee. Lee was strangled and found buried in a park, a classic domestic violence scenario. Syed had shown Lee’s body to a friend—who testified at trial—and then enlisted the friend to help dispose of the body. Cell-phone tower evidence corroborated that Syed was in the park when the victim was buried.

Mosby speaking at a press conference after Syed's conviction was overturned on September 19, 2022.
Mosby speaking at a press conference after Syed’s conviction was overturned on September 19, 2022.
Amy Davis/The Baltimore Sun via AP

As with every case, evidence can be attacked, whether challenging the accuracy of the cell-phone location information or challenging the friend’s testimony. Working through disputed issues of fact, the jury convicted Syed of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison.

Enter the media, who seem to find it hard to believe that any murderers are guilty. The writers of a sensationalized podcast called Serial, released in 2014, claimed to have found an alibi witness: a high school student who would testify that she saw Syed in a library at the time of the murder. Experienced investigators and civilians pointed out the many problems with this alleged alibi witness. If it was just a regular day for her, how would she recall, years later, exactly where and when Syed was in a library?

Syed himself had never made such a claim. Two former classmates of the alibi witness claimed that she was fabricating the story to help Syed. In the face of other evidence against Syed, including an eyewitness who saw Syed with the victim’s body, the alibi witness’s shaky recollection would amount to virtually nothing.

A jury found Syed guilty in 2000 of killing teenager Hae Min Lee.
A jury found Syed guilty in 2000 of killing teenager Hae Min Lee.

Syed’s defense team raised all these issues on appeal, with the extra notoriety provided by the Serial podcast. The defense team even got a free shot at attacking Syed’s trial attorney, one of the most respected criminal-defense lawyers in Baltimore, who had died by this point and so was unable to defend herself. But reviewing all the evidence, the Maryland Supreme Court upheld Syed’s conviction, and in 2019, the US Supreme Court declined to reconsider the matter.

Case closed, right? Lee’s family could finally find some consolation and peace, secure in the knowledge that her murderer would remain behind bars.

But Mosby had other plans. With her time in office running out, she requested that the Baltimore circuit court throw out Syed’s conviction. Mosby’s office does not say that they believe that Syed is innocent, only that they “lack confidence in the integrity of the conviction.” Mosby now claims that other suspects existed whose identities were not disclosed to Syed’s defense; she has not provided their identities.

The Maryland attorney general, who had handled Syed’s appeals, flatly contradicted Mosby on the issue of whether the evidence was disclosed, known as a Brady violation. “Among the other serious problems with the motion to vacate, the allegations related to Brady violations are incorrect,” the attorney general stated. “Neither State’s Attorney Mosby nor anyone from her office bothered to consult with either the Assistant State’s Attorney who prosecuted the case or with anyone in my office regarding these alleged violations. The file in this case was made available on several occasions to the defense.”

The victim’s family also opposed Mosby’s request, with their attorney stating that Mosby “railroaded” the family, “ramming down their throats” the unilateral decision to free Syed.

But the court granted Mosby’s request, freeing Syed and vacating his conviction. A judge has virtually no control over a prosecutor who decides to de-prosecute a case.

Why would Mosby pursue this, and why now? Law enforcement officials are concerned that radical progressive prosecutors like Mosby have been engaging in a pattern of falsely exonerating convicted murderers.

But it is the timing of Mosby’s conduct that makes it a slap in the face to the victim’s family, the citizens of Baltimore, and the incoming chief prosecutor. Mosby is on her way out of office, so freeing Syed has no consequences for her. If she decides not to re-try him, Baltimoreans and the victim’s family have no recourse; they can’t vote Mosby out again.

Or Mosby might delay making a decision beyond the 30 days set by statute, continuing the case until she is out of office. Then Ivan Bates, the incoming chief prosecutor who defeated Mosby in the Democratic primary, will be forced to clean up Mosby’s mess.

Mosby could have addressed the alleged problems with the Syed case at any point during her eight years in office. Instead, embittered by her loss, she now is either hurling a final insult at the voters who chased her out of office or laying a trap for the new prosecutor who beat her. Under either scenario, she has renewed the agony experienced by the Lee family.

The entire episode marks a fitting conclusion to Mosby’s tenure as a prosecutor. Let the epitaph of her public career read: “She Never Let Justice Be Done.”

Tom Hogan, now in private practice, has served as a federal prosecutor, local prosecutor and elected district attorney. This piece first appeared at City Journal.



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