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BALTIMORE — Attorney Erica Suter recalled the disbelief in the voice of her high-profile client, Adnan Syed, the subject of the viral “Serial” podcast, when the judge told her he was released from prison after 23 years for a murder, says Syed he did not commit.
“At the test table, he turned to me and said, ‘I can’t believe this is real,'” Suter said.
Troy Burner, 50, remembers that feeling. Burner, who also lives in Maryland, spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit before a judge ruled in 2018 that, like Syed, prosecutors had failed to give him a fair trial .
According to Innocence Project records and attorneys, Syed and Burner are just two of thousands of wrongful lawsuit cases.
In the United States, at least 3,000 exonerated people spent 25,000 years of their lives behind bars due to wrongful prosecution as of March 2022, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a database compiled by the University of California at Irvine, University of Michigan. Michigan State University School of Law and College of Law.
They were there because of false confessions, non-disclosure of relevant evidence and failure to reform criminal justice systems that led to thousands of wrongful lawsuits, said Suter, an attorney with the Office of the Public Defender.
“It’s not just a factor,” said Suter, also director of the Innocence Project Clinic in Baltimore. “It depends on how our system was designed.”
Syed was released after a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ruled that the prosecution withheld critical evidence at trial that could have prevented his conviction.
Syed’s release shows the prevalence of such pursuit behavior. In Baltimore, Suter said 80% of recorded exonerations involved state withholding of evidence.
In 2021, there were 161 exemptions in the United States and official misconduct occurred in 102 of those cases, according to the National Register. Of the 102 cases of official misconduct, 59 were homicide cases.
Studies show that when prosecutorial misconduct is found, there are rarely repercussions.
The Chicago Tribune, one of the nation’s leading publications, reviewed 11,000 homicide cases nationwide between 1963 and 1999 with prosecutorial misconduct. The publication found that among cases of substantial prosecutorial misconduct, “not a single state disciplinary agency has publicly sanctioned any of the prosecutors,” according to the Innocence Project prosecution monitoring report.
The Attorney Liman Misconduct Research Project at Yale University conducted a study that examined disciplinary practices and ethical rules in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and found that the workers most likely to finding prosecutorial misconduct, such as prosecutors and defense attorneys, not reporting it because they work in “a culture that doesn’t support reporting, poor administrative processes, and professional disincentives”, according to the surveillance report.
There may or may not be repercussions in Syed’s case, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said. Part of the reason is to establish the prosecutor’s intent, she said.
“Sometimes it’s due to negligence,” Mosby said. “Sometimes it’s intentional. It’s really hard to prove some kind of willful misconduct.
“I haven’t seen any vindictive prosecutions yet. I haven’t seen any kind of charges or appeals that are filed against prosecutors. You have to establish intent, and oftentimes negligence isn’t intent. criminal.
Arrested at age 17 for allegedly killing his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, Syed could have spent the rest of his life in prison were it not for Maryland’s Juvenile Restoration Act.
Passed by the General Assembly in 2021, the law states that people who were arrested at the time of the crime as a minor and who have served at least 20 years can ask the court to review their sentence.
Syed remains under house arrest for the next 27 days, pending a decision from Mosby’s office whether he will be retried or exonerated.
In an interview with Capital News Service, Mosby said his decision hinged on the outcome of DNA evidence related to Syed’s case.
“If the DNA comes back and it’s another person, then clearly I’m going to come in and I’m going to certify their innocence,” she said. “But if it’s up to him, then that’s a consideration, in light of all the negative contributing factors we’re using to seek a new trial.”
Suter said she expects to see a new trial date set for 2023 as the state must decide within 30 days of Syed’s release on Monday whether to try the case again, and the results of the DNA evidence tests likely won’t be back until then. A new trial date, however, does not mean the state will try Syed again.
Even if the case is dropped, Syed will have spent more than half his life in prison.
Burner said nothing could make up for his time in prison. He said he had spent half his life behind bars based on five false and constantly changing testimonies from a witness who placed him at a crime scene in Washington, DC.
In Burner’s case, he was released from jail under the Reduced Incarceration Act 2016, which allows people under the age of 18 to ask the court for a new trial after the crime they committed. committed for at least 15 years.
He was convicted in 1994 for a murder he did not commit and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.
“I stretch [in prison] several times a day, and I just sit there, and to be quite frank, in my mind, I’ll say, I wish I had done it because, to me, it would have satisfied my conscience that I was in there for a reason,” Burner said.
At the time of his sentencing, Burner said he was an amateur boxer hoping to turn professional. He also worked for the Department of Public Housing and assisted, now the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. He said he was a month away from being certified in home building and maintenance repair.
His hopes and dreams were dashed after being sentenced, he said.
“As I walk into the courtroom, I still remember today and hear my mother’s screams,” Burner said. “I felt like a dead man and failed in so many ways.”
Burner was paroled in 2018 and cleared of his charges in March 2020.
Under Washington, DC’s compensation bill, Burner should have received $200,000 for each year he served in prison. Part of Burner’s compensation went to the Venable-Burner Exoneree Support Fund, which provides funding to hire exonerate mentors and navigators to help them reintegrate into the world after they get out of prison, it said. -he declares.
Under Maryland’s Exonerated Compensation Act, which went into effect July 1, 2022, Syed would receive the state’s median annual income for each year of imprisonment.
Burner said he found his purpose working with the Justice Policy Institute and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, advocating for and educating wrongfully convicted people like himself.
“I’m a fighter by nature,” Burner said. “So I understand that when you lose that hope, you lose yourself. So being here now I’m just trying to be and create and show this hope that guys [who] yearn for one day, to see the world again, that they have someone here working for them.
By Abby Zimmardi and Shannon Clark
Capital News Service