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home : community : community Thursday, June 22, 2017

8/12/2010 Email this articlePrint this article 
Protest ... Evidenciary Hearing ... Then Freedom for Koua Fong Lee

By Amy Doeun

More than 100 protesters gathered at the Ramsey County Courthouse early Monday morning. (Amy Doeun / HMONG TIMES
Trudy Baltazar read a statement outside the courthouse from Koua Fong Lee’s wife. (Amy Doeun / HMONG TIMES)
The system works and Koua Fong Lee has been set free. The judge vacated all charges and ruled that Lee should be given a new trial. The Ramsey County attorney will not retry the case - so the nightmare is over and Koua Fong Lee is reunited with his family. However, a nagging question remains ... Why did it take so long?

Trudy Baltazar didn't know Koua Fong Lee personally. She didn't know any of his family or much about his culture before coming across his story on facebook. Something about the story struck a cord with Baltazar and she has since made it her mission to do all she can to get a new trial for Lee.

Lee, his brother, father, pregnant wife and child were driving in Lee's 1996 Toyota Camry in 2006. They were exiting I-94 at Snelling Ave. when his car suddenly accelerated up the off ramp crashing into a Toyato Ciera and killing 3 people.

Lee was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to 8 years in prison even though engineers found evidence that Lee had stepped on the brake and witnesses confirmed this.

On Monday August 2, an evidentiary hearing began to introduce new evidence into this tragic case. Toyota Camrys have been suspected in more fatal car accidents across the country and there has been some evidence of sudden acceleration that does not appear on the cars computers.

Outside the Ramsey Country Courthouse, prior to the start of the hearing, over 100 people gathered in the growing heat to protest the unfair treatment of Koua Fong Lee. Baltazar was instrumental in organizing the protest. Many carried signs with slogans such as: "Accident Not a Crime," "Put Toyota on Trial," "New Evidence Should = New Trial." Baltazar read a statement from Lee's wife. She recounted having to give birth to their 4th child alone and raise their 4 young children without the father home.

She said in a written statement, "The horrified look on his face before impact I will never forget ... I know for a fact he stepped on the brake and did everything he could to stop."

Baltazar addressed the crowd saying that Lee's own attorney did not represent him properly, "Where is the proof he was guilty of gross negligence?" She also compared the situation to tainted food recalls saying that the FDA recalls food quickly if there is a suspicion that it is making people sick. "Why isn't the national transportation commission doing more about a Toyota recall?" Baltazar asks. She added that "not all problems are traceable" but there is enough evidence that there is something faulty with Toyota accelerators in Camrys.

Another thing that Baltazar feels contributed to his conviction was, "Where Lee comes from you are not allowed to show remorse in the courtroom. He didn't know he could show remorse."

Monday August 2nd began the Evidenciary Hearing. The hearing concluded on Thursday with Ramsey County District Judge Joanne Smith vacating the conviction of all charges including that of criminal vehicular homicide and ruled that Koua Fong Lee should be given a new trial. Judge Smith went on to say that she felt that "the ineffective-assistance issue alone would have persuaded her to vacate the charges."

Shortly after the judge pronounced her verdict County Attorney Susan Gaertner said that she would not retry the case, "'I respect the judge, and I respect her ruling, and I believe it is time to bring this very tragic situation to a close,' she said in a written statement. Gaertner said she did not regret defending the jury's verdict. 'I believe, however, that compelling evidence was produced at Mr. Lee's evidentiary hearing on the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel'" reported the Pioneer Press.

Earlier Thursday morning Lee rejected an offer from the attorney's office that would allow him to go free but leave the conviction on his record, meaning he would be on probation for 15 years and unable to drive for 10. He rejected this offer. Now he is walking away a free man with no record.

So now it is all over for Koua Fong Lee. He has been reunited with his wife and children and is once again sleeping in his own bed in his own home. He has begun to attack his "Honey-Do" list with the first item being to mow the lawn.

"The families of those killed in the crash, Javis Trice-Adams, 33, his son Javis Jr., 9, and his niece Devyn Bolton, 7, have filed suit against Toyota. Several of the victims' relatives sat through the hearing this week in support of Lee. Carolyn Trice, mother and grandmother of those killed, said the day was bittersweet but that she was happy that an innocent man was going free."

Some information provided by the Pioneer Press.


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