Koua Fong Lee Freed in MN, Toyota Nightmare Over
Back in March, I wrote Free Koua Fong Lee From His Toyota Camry Nightmare. Mr. Lee, a recent Hmong immigrant, was driving his family home from church in 2006 when his Toyota Camry sped up a ramp and hit another car. Three people died and two were injured. Mr. Lee insisted he did everything he could to avoid the accident and hit the brakes. He was convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison.
While in prison, Toyota revealed the problems with its gas pedals. The Innocence Project of Minnesota took up his case, and the prosecutor agreed to revisit it.
Today, a judge freed Mr. Lee from prison, ordering a new trial. The prosecutor said there isn't going to be one, ""I think it's time to bring this very sad situation to a close." [More...]
The judge who freed Mr. Lee today is the same one who sentenced him to 8 years in prison:
Over four days of testimony this week, Lee's attorneys didn't prove his car had a sudden acceleration problem. But they argued evidence backed up Lee's account he was trying to brake. They also argued his defense attorney did a poor job. And they called a parade of witnesses who testified they had sudden-acceleration experiences in Toyotas similar to Lee's.
The Judge agreed had the Toyota evidence been presented at trial, the result likely would have been different.
Smith said if that testimony from the other Toyota drivers had been introduced at his trial, it would "more likely than not, or probably, or even almost certainly" have resulted in a different verdict for Lee.
The Judge also based her decision on Lee's limited English and his attorney's triai performance:
Smith also said Lee's limited English was a factor in her conclusion, as well as the work of his defense attorney, who suggested to the jury that Lee might have stepped on the accelerator.
"There were multiple errors and omissions by his attorney that necessitate this result," Smith said.
The families of the victims supported Lee's bid for a new trial and "welcomed the judge's ruling."
Leaving court, Lee said he never intended to cause an accident:
I want them to know that I will pray for them and I also want to ask them to forgive me and to believe me," he said.
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