Monday, April 5, 2010

Koua Fong Lee Update

Today the Star Tribune ran an editorial that essentially said the same thing I wrote a month ago about Lee's case, challenging the illogic and injustice of his sentence. It was a fine piece of writing, containing this slap in the face:

L.C. Wesley Armstrong...was convicted last year of second-degree manslaughter after he began arguing with a pregnant woman in the passenger seat of the car he was driving and took his hands off the steering wheel to grab her. The car flipped and crashed, killing the woman. Armstrong also was convicted of first-degree burglary in 2009.

For those convictions, Armstrong spent a total of four months in prison.

[Koua Fong] Lee, now 32, had no criminal record, no prior driving offenses, no drugs or alcohol in his system and steadfastly maintained that he'd pumped the brake as his car rocketed through the intersection. Prosecutors and Lee's defense attorney concluded that he'd mistakenly hit the gas pedal instead. For this, Lee is serving eight years in prison.

Shown the newspaper story about Armstrong's four-month sentence, Lee grew quiet and looked around the Lino Lakes prison conference room in bewilderment on Thursday.
The same issue contained an interview with Lee, which closed with these words from him:
Had I known this was going to happen, I would have stayed in the refugee camp. If I had known lives would be lost and my wife and kids separated from me, I'd rather have lived in a refugee camp. I would like the victims' family to know that this was not on purpose, not intentional. I tried to step on the brake. I tried to stop the car. It just didn't happen.
Finally, a commenter to my earlier post left the address of a Facebook page in support of freeing Koua Fong Lee.


elena said...

Thank you for supporting someone who seems to be the victim of arbitrary justice. The contrast between the two cases is shocking.

Ms Sparrow said...

Koua Fong Lee should be released immediately just out of common decency! It's a travesty of justice from ANY standpoint.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I agree that he should be freed. He's already served more than enough time even if he were guilty of what the jury said: panicking and making a mistake.

Daughter Number Three said...

Reader Pat St. Joseph emailed me with this comment:

New Business Week article, Toyota knew about problem in 2006. The gentleman deserves justice.

MN first said...

RelatedMore Toyota
Long-buried letter, new inspection casts fresh doubts on Toyota crash that sent St. Paul man to jailAccusations were flying Tuesday between a Texas defense attorney and the Ramsey County attorney's office over redactions in a newly released letter regarding a deadly Toyota crash.

The letter was sent Oct. 24, 2006, from Mark Solheim, a civil attorney representing Koua Fong Lee, to Brian Stofferahn, an attorney for a firm representing American Family Insurance.

Lee, 32, was the driver of a 1996 Toyota Camry that struck another car in June 2006, killing a man and two children. American Family insured the Camry.

The letter — written a year before Lee's criminal trial but released Tuesday — said an inspection of the car found that Lee had been braking at the time of the crash.

That is the first evidence from the car that corroborates Lee's testimony that he was hitting the brake when his car barreled into the back of the victims' Oldsmobile at Snelling and Concordia avenues in St. Paul. Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide in 2007. Prosecutors in the criminal trial, as well as Lee's defense attorney at the time, argued that he must have been stepping on the gas by mistake.

The sentence about the evidence that Lee was braking was redacted in one copy of the letter provided to Corpus Christi, Texas, attorney Robert Hilliard, who is working with Eagan attorney Brent Schafer to get a new trial for Lee, Hilliard said.

Hilliard accused Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Phil Carruthers, who prosecuted Lee, of redacting the letter.



boss, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, reacted angrily, calling Hilliard's statement "false and outrageous."
"Here's a news flash for Mr. Hilliard. This is Minnesota, not Texas, and attorneys in this state are expected to abide by stringent ethical standards," Gaertner said in a written statement.

Gaertner said Tracy Eichhorn-Hicks, Lee's trial attorney, provided the letter to Carruthers. It came to prosecutors already redacted, she said.

Eichhorn-Hicks denied he redacted the letter.

Hilliard said two versions of the letter, one redacted and one intact, were passed along to him and Schafer when they requested Eichhorn-Hicks' files from the case.

The redacted portion, provided to reporters by the county attorney's office, makes up more than four paragraphs of the two-page letter. Other parts that were blacked out said the inspection found a water bottle and a roll of toilet paper on the driver's-side floor, which the inspector noted could have become lodged beneath the brake pedal, and a recommendation by Solheim that the insurance company pay the policy limits to the victims.

A call to Solheim was not returned Tuesday.

Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522.

MN first said...

Thank you for supporting someone, especially a completed stranger whom you knew very little about, I agreed that he should be exonerated. The county prosecutor office should do what’s right. After what is being discovered that they knew he was braking and redact that piece of evidence from the juries. He's already served more than enough time, especially now that the experts are finding that he had done, all that he could to stopped the car and that there are braking events took placed before the crash. Mr. Lee should be vindicated at once. No one goes to a prison for an accident!

john said...

As a lawyer in St. Paul I am troubled by the way the Ramsey County Attorney, Susan Gaertner, has been handling Koua Fong Lee’s case. One would think that, in the interests of justice, Ms. Gaertner would ask the Court to release Mr. Lee from prison and dismiss the charge of criminal vehicular homicide or, at the very least, would stipulate and agree to Mr. Lee’s request for a new trial. To be convicted of that charge, a jury needs to conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Lee was acting in reckless disregard for the safety of others. I do not understand how that conclusion can be sustained.

Rule 3.8 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct governs the special responsibilities of a prosecutor. The official comment to that rule states that “A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate.” In her recent public statements about the case Ms. Gaertner’s desire to win and be “right” seems to have overshadowed her responsibility as a prosecutor to seek justice. The forensic evidence and recent information about Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems clearly support Mr. Lee’s statement that he had his foot on the brakes and was trying to stop his car when the accident happened.

Perhaps Ms. Gaertner is unwilling to stipulate to relief for Mr. Lee because she is concerned about potential liability for a wrongful prosecution. The prosecutor who tried the criminal case argued to the jury that Mr. Lee must have stepped on the accelerator by mistake, keeping his foot on the gas until he reached a speed estimated at 90 miles an hour while exiting the freeway on his way home from church with his family. That argument makes little sense to anyone who drives a car, and is contradicted by forensic evidence available when the case was tried which indicated Mr. Lee’s brake light was activated when the crash occurred. For reasons that are incomprehensible to me as a trial lawyer, Mr. Lee’s criminal defense attorney at the time apparently agreed with the prosecutor’s theory of how the accident happened. Clearly, an injustice has occurred. I hope Ms. Gaertner can find within herself the courage and strength to do the right thing.

John R. Allison

Daughter Number Three said...

Thanks for your thoughts, John. I have a hard time understanding Gaertner's motivations, but perhaps you're right about fear of a counter-suit. If so, that's a pathetic reason.

As I've written on my blog, I don't understand how the jury could have found him guilty of criminal negligence, even if he had had his foot on the gas instead of the break. As shown in the recent case of the teen driver who didn't have his lights on and was convicted only of careless driving even though he drove out of his lane, criminal requiress intent or extreme recklessness, not just inept driving.

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