Thursday, August 5, 2010

Koua Fong Lee Is Free

Koua Fong Lee and his wife react to hearing that all charges are dropped
After a four-day hearing, justice has finally been served. Judge Joanne Smith took 40 minutes to read her decision aloud, finding that new evidence and inadequate legal assistance in Koua Fong Lee's first trial both contributed to the need for a new trial.

According to Robert Brooks, a supporter of Lee's who spent each day this week in the courtroom as an observer, it was clear that a new trial would be the only outcome. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the county attorney's office this morning tried one last-ditch ploy to maintain face by offering Lee immediate release, commuting his sentence to time served.

If he had taken the bargain, Lee would have kept a felony conviction on his record and would have been banned from driving for 10 years. I think it was a dirty trick on the part of the county attorney's office to make such an offer so late in the chain of events. It's almost as if they've watched too many episodes of Law & Order and they think that winning is more important than seeking justice. This isn't an episode of Deal or No Deal, people.

Lee turned them down, though, choosing to wait to hear what the judge had to say. It was a tense afternoon, knowing that he could have been free and that the judge could still send him back to prison.

But instead, Judge Smith took her legal duties as one would hope, despite the fact that she's the same judge who (inexplicably, in my opinion) sentenced him to eight years in the first place. Minnesota Public Radio's Tim Nelson reported that Smith's statement contained at least one admission of her own error in the original trial.

It was a dramatic chain of events as the day came to a close.

At about 4:45 p.m. today, news finally broke about the judge's decision. The Free Koua Fong Lee Facebook page was overflowing with well-wishes and questions as people tried to figure out what had happened. The judge's order meant he would be freed within the hour, but would still be subject to restrictions, as if he were on probation, while waiting for the new trial.

Then, just as Lee was released from custody, and was speaking at a press conference alongside his lawyers, the news arrived that Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner had announced she would not refile criminal charges against him.

So he is truly free, and his name is cleared. Let's hope something has been learned from all of this.

Minnesota Public Radio story by Tim Nelson


Carmella said...

Wag wag wag!!!!

Barbara said...

Justice indeed, at long last.

I wish Koua Fong Lee and his family long, happy, safe, and media-free futures.

Daughter Number Three said...

I second that, Barbara!