A Minnesota judge Thursday freed Koua Fong Lee, a motorist jailed for vehicular homicide after a June 10, 2006, car crash that left one adult and two children dead. Lee claimed that he tried to stop his 1996 Toyota Camry but said his brakes failed to respond and his accelerator stuck.
Lee, 32, was sentenced to eight years in 2007 and has served two and one half years of that sentence.
The judge ordered a new trial claiming new evidence put the verdict of Lee’s first trial in doubt. Plus, after the judge’s ruling, Ramsey County prosecutor Susan Gaertner said she would not request a new trial or pursue the case any further. That makes Lee a free man innocent of the original charges against him.
The new evidence consisted of the myriad of problems late model Toyotas have had with both breaking and acceleration. In addition the judge cited that Lee’s previous attorney made mistakes that may have influenced the outcome of the trial.
Despite the fact that most of the mechanical problems have been with newer Toyotas and that expert witnesses were not able to agree whether or not Lee’s 1996 Toyota had acceleration problems or braking problems, the judge ruled that the evidence was sufficient to warrant a new trial.
The following video is a local TV station report of Lee getting his freedom.
Upon his release Lee stated before cameras, “When I slept in the cell, sometime I’d dream and I’d wake up and still (be) in the little room, but now my dream come true.”
Just hours before the judge’s ruling the Ramsey County Attorney’s office offered Lee a deal under which he would go free, but would remain a convicted felon and would lose his driving privileges for 10 years. Lee declined the offer.
Part of the new evidence that the judge considered was that 11 witnesses had offered their testimony regarding rapid acceleration of 1996 Toyota Camrys. Mr. Lee was wise to pass up the prosecutor’s offer.
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