Update: After more than two decades in prison and ceaseless legal battles, Adnan Syed was released in September 2022 after a judge overturned his conviction for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.
When Serial first aired in 2014, passionate listeners, and even just anyone with ears and access to their phone's podcast app, knew the order of events in Hae Min Lee's murder and Adnan Syed's conviction better than they knew family member's birthdays. It's been more than eight years since that obsession swept the world, and a lot of true crime stories have taken up residence in our amateur detective minds. Viewers were pulled back into the story in 2019 when the four-part HBO documentary, The Case Against Adnan Syed came out. And while the documentary explored various aspects of the case, including information Serial listeners weren't privy to, the timeline of Adnan Syed's case remains the same. Now, as we prepare to get sucked back into the story upon his release, we trace back the main events from the case.
From the day Syed met Lee to his release from prison more than twenty years later, below we chronicle the main events.
Syed & Lee, Pre-Tragedy: 1980 — 1999
October 15, 1980: Hae Min Lee is born in South Korea.
May 21, 1981: Adnan Syed is born in Baltimore, Maryland.
1992: Lee moves with her younger brother and mother to live with her grandparents in Maryland.
August 1995: Lee and Syed meet on the first day of ninth grade in biology class at Woodlawn High School, where they are part of the school's magnet program. (Syed described this first meeting in a letter to Serial host Sarah Koenig in 2013.)
July 1996-December 1996: Lee and her family move to Hayward, California, reportedly to be with her mother's fiancé.
March 1998: Syed and Lee begin dating, and he asks her to prom. (According to Serial, he asked her to prom before they were a couple, but according to her diary, they were already dating.) They have to hide their relationship from their strict parents.
April 1998: Syed and Lee go to prom, where Syed and his friend Stephanie are named Prom King and Queen.
October 30, 1998: While Syed and Lee are at homecoming, his parents arrive and make a huge scene. They disapprove of their son attending mixed-gender dances. Also this month, Lee begins working at Lenscrafters, where she meets an older man named Don.
November 1, 1998: Lee breaks up with Syed. In her note to him, it seems he didn't take it well, and she called him out for being hostile and cold.
November 14, 1998: They get back together.
December 20, 1998: Lee and Syed break up again. Lee has been writing in her diary all month about her crush on Don.
December 23, 1998: Lee's car breaks down at work, and she calls Syed to come and help her. He meets Don.
January 1, 1999: Don and Lee go on their first date.
January 12, 1999: Syed gets a new cell phone and calls a bunch of people on it, including Lee.
When Everything Changed: Early 1999
January 13, 1999: Stephanie's birthday, prompting Syed to go shopping for a present with her boyfriend, Jay Wilds. At 2:25 pm, Lee is last seen buying food at school. At 3:30 pm, Lee's family realises she's missing after she fails to pick up her cousin from Kindergarten. Then the timelines get tricky. For all the detailed disputed timelines of that day, you can look at Serial's version.
February 9, 1999: A man identified in Serial as Mr. S (due to his history of being a convicted flasher) discovers Lee's body in Leakin Park and leads police to it.
February 12, 1999: An anonymous caller tells police to look into Syed as a suspect.
February 26, 1999: After subpoenaing Syed's cell phone records, the police decide to bring in Jenn Pusateri for questioning, as she's the person called most on the day of Lee's disappearance. Pusateri eventually tells them that Wilds told her Syed killed Lee.
February 28, 1999: In his first interview with police, Wilds tells them that Syed showed him Lee's body in the trunk of her car. He leads the police to her car. Police arrest Adnan.
Questions Start To Arise, Syed's Trial Begins: Late 1999
March 1 & 2, 1999: Asia McClain sends letters to Syed saying that she, her boyfriend, and their friend saw him at the library at the presumed time of Lee's murder.
September 7, 1999: Wilds signs a plea deal, admitting to helping Syed dispose of Hae's body, represented by a defense attorney that prosecutor Kevin Urick helped him acquire.
December 8, 1999: Syed's trial begins. With money raised by his community, he is represented by well-regarded defence attorney Cristina Gutierrez.
December 15, 1999: Gutierrez argues with Judge William Quarles over Syed's call records. The jurors overhear this discussion, and Gutierrez asks for a mistrial.
Syed's Second Trial: 2000
January 21 - February 25, 2000: Syed's second trial takes place. The jury delivers a guilty verdict after less than three hours. That day, Syed's friend Rabia Chaudry discovers that Gutierrez failed to follow up on Asia McClain's letter.
March 6, 2000: Gutierrez files a motion for a new trial.
April 5, 2000: Syed's family asks for Gutierrez to be dismissed as his attorney, after she fails to maintain any contact with him.
June 6, 2000: The court denies the motion for a new trial and sentences Syed to life, plus 30 years.
Syed & His Supporters Attempt To Prove His Innocence: 2002-2013
2002-2003: Syed's appeals are denied.
January 30, 2004: Gutierrez dies of a heart attack. She also had been suffering from multiple sclerosis.
May 2010: Syed's new lawyer, Justin Brown, files a petition for post-conviction relief, on the grounds that Gutierrez had been ineffective.
December 2013: Judge Martin P. Welch denies the petition. The next year involves some legal back and forth with the Court of Special Appeals that go nowhere, too, until Serial becomes involved.
Serial Begins To Give The Case New Life: 2014-2016
October 3, 2014: Serial launches.
February 2015: The Court of Special Appeals grants Syed an Application for Leave to Appeal.
June 2015: Brown files a motion to re-open the post-conviction relief petition.
November 2015: Judge Welch grants the request for a new hearing.
February 3, 2016: New evidence (as in, all the evidence Serial listeners already knew about, like the unreliable cell phone information, plus McClain's testimony) is presented in court. Lee's family releases a heartbreaking statement about it all.
June 30, 2016: Judge Welch vacates Syed's conviction, meaning he would get a new trial.
Where The Case Is Now
March 29, 2018: The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upholds Welch's ruling.
July 12, 2018: The Maryland Court of Appeals agrees to hear the State's Appeal.
November 29, 2018: The Maryland Court of Appeals hears arguments on both sides. They are expected to deliver their decision by the end of August 2019, when the current term ends.
March 10, 2019: The HBO documentary The Case Against Adnan Syed is released, exploring evidence that Serial listeners were not privy to, including the discovery that no DNA from Syed or anyone else was found on Lee's remains. The new evidence reinvokes fans to petition for Syed's release.
March 2019: The Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, rules in a 4:3 decision that while Syed's original lawyer had in fact been “deficient,” Mr Syed was not “prejudiced” by that deficit, and denied him a new trial, reinstating his conviction.
April 2021: Syed's attorneys bring the case to the attention of the sentencing review unit.
March 2022: Prosecutors agree to new DNA testing, admitting it is merited with the advancements in technology. A new Maryland law is introduced that allows prosecutors the discretion to modify sentences of offenders who were under 18 at the time of the crimes and had served at least twenty years in prison.
September 14, 2022: Prosecutors request that a judge overturn Syed's conviction, stating that an investigation had uncovered the potential involvement of two “alternative suspects.” — evidence that prosecutors might have failed to provide to Syed’s defence team — as well as citing “significant reliability issues regarding the most critical pieces of evidence” presented at trial.
September 2022: Baltimore City Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn rules to overturn Syed's conviction, citing that there was material in the state investigation that was not adequately turned over to defence attorneys, as well as the existence of two suspects who may have been prematurely dismissed as part of the investigation.
September 19, 2022: At the age of 41, Adnan Syed walks free after over twenty years in prison. He has always maintained his innocence.