Friday, April 30, 2010

Koua Fong Lee: Latest Sentence Shows Unequal Justice

As you know by now, Koua Fong Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide several years ago, and has been in prison on an eight-year sentence ever since (see my earlier post). He wasn't drunk, texting, or on his phone, tried to stop (his family was in the car!), but either his 1996 Toyota malfunctioned or, possibly, he was stepping on the gas when he thought he was stepping on the brake.

Three people died and the Ramsey County attorney thought someone had to pay for it. The jury, unfortunately, agreed. There's new evidence that shows Lee definitely had his foot on the brake at the time of impact, as he said, and possibly mechanical findings about a malfunction of his cruise control.

Minnesota has many examples of people who were clearly negligent who got much lighter sentences than Lee. A new one was just recently decided, as described in the Star Tribune story Teen Charged in Lakeville Crash that Killed 3 Family Members. In this case, a 17-year-old boy with a brand-new provisional license was driving at night without his headlights when his pickup truck crossed the center line of a highway and destroyed a car containing three generations of a family (grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter).

While the teen, Brandon Iams, has not been found guilty yet, the news story reports about how he will be charged: A grand jury returned a finding of careless driving, rather than criminal vehicular manslaughter, the crime Lee was convicted of. Lee was on trial for both charges, and the jury went with the more severe crime because, as one juror put it, "If we had gone with a lesser offense, it was basically 'a slap on the hand. It was almost nothing,' he said. 'Yet we didn't want him to go to prison [for years].' "

I don't have an opinion of whether Iams should be charged with manslaughter or not. But I do believe that his actions are clearly more negligent than anything Lee did. According to the Star Tribune, "A witness saw the truck without headlights on, heading west on County Rd. 50... The driver pulled into a turning lane at Ipava Avenue, signaling a turn. But instead of turning, he returned to Hwy. 50, where he entered the eastbound lane and crushed the front end of [the family's] sedan."

What is the standard for criminal negligence? How do the facts in Lee's case (even as known in 2006) meet that standard, if the ones in Iams' case don't?

The maximum sentence Iams faces is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. While Lee sits in prison for another four years.

It's time for a new trial, or better yet, clemency or a commuted sentence for Koua Fong Lee. Let him go back to his wife and four young children.


Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I agree, absolutely.

elena said...

I am in total agreement, too. Thanks for persisting in attention to this case of unequal justice.

TrudyB said...

There will be a Walk for Freedom to support Koua Fong Lee and his right to a new trial. Saturday, July 24 9-11 (no need to walk the entire 2 hrs, just once or twice around the lake is fine) at Como Lake in St. Paul - Lexington Ave. goes right around the lake. A suggested donation of $10.00 would be appreciated to help toward the cost of flying in special witnesses for Koua's evidence hearing on 8/2. If you don't have $10.00 and nobody will sponsor you, come anyway to show the media how much the support for Koua has grown. Water will be provided. Thank you - Trudy Baltazar