She Made Adnan Syed's Case Famous—and She's Shocked

Sarah Koenig talks about his surprise release from prison in Baltimore
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2022 11:50 AM CDT
Serial Host: Evidence That Got Syed Released Was From 1999
Sarah Koenig attends the Peabody Awards in New York in 2015.   (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

The stunning release of Adnan Syed from prison after 20 years seems to have caught everyone by surprise—including the podcaster who made his case famous. "I was shocked," Serial host Sarah Koenig tells the New York Times of learning last week that prosecutors wanted him released. "I did not see this coming at all." She adds that she immediately called Syed's brother and mother, and they had no clue either. "The prosecutors who filed the motion to release him kept it pretty tight, it seems." So how'd we get here? In a newly released episode of her podcast, Koenig says Syed's case seems to encapsulate "every chronic problem" of the criminal justice system.

That includes detectives "using questionable interview methods" and prosecutors keeping crucial evidence from the defense—in this case, they never revealed the existence of not one but two plausible alternative suspects in the 1999 murder of Baltimore teen Hae Min Lee. Koenig also points to "extreme" prison sentences and juveniles being treated as adults (Syed was 17 when arrested). In the podcast and interview, Koenig runs through the previously known problems with the conviction, including a shaky timeline, iffy cellphone records, and unreliable witness statements. And on top of all that comes the new revelation of the two suspects.

“Yesterday, there was a lot of talk about fairness, but most of what the state put in that motion to vacate, all the actual evidence, was either known or knowable to cops and prosecutors back in 1999,” Koenig says on the podcast, per the AP. As a result, "it’s hard to feel cheered about a triumph of fairness. Because we’ve built a system that takes more than 20 years to self-correct. And that’s just this one case.” The 41-year-old Syed has not been exonerated, and he is currently on home detention as prosecutors decide whether to retry him. Koenig thinks the possibility of him again standing trial is "remote at best." (More Adnan Syed stories.)

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