Four years ago Koua Fong Lee killed three Minnesotans when he rammed his 1996 Toyota Camry into the rear of another car at the Snelling Avenue exit of Interstate Highway 94 in St. Paul. Lee careened into the other car somewhere between 70 and 90 miles per hour and was, not unreasonably, convicted of negilgent vehicular homicide.
Lee’s particular Toyota model was never part of the controversy over the alleged unintended acceleration of certain models of Toyota cars. No mechanical problem was found with the car after the accident. The trial judge nevertheless granted Lee a new trial on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel after the Toyota controversy seemed to lend some credibility to Lee’s account of how the accident happened. Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner declined to prosecute the case again. Lee is now free once more to drive the city streets.
Unbelievably, to my knowledge, no one other than me has asked Gaertner why she threw in the towel on the case. In comments she made about the case before a local lawyers’ group last month, Gaertner made it clear how much she disliked being asked around town about Lee’s eight-year sentence (a sentence the prosecutor had requested after Lee’s conviction). Wasn’t the sentence too harsh? Prosecuting crimes can really be a bitch; it may not always be the best way to win friends and influence people.
Gaertner says she stands behind the case she originally brought against Lee after deliberating over it for a year after the accident and taking heat about the delay from the local chapter of the NAACP; the deceased victims of Lee’s negligence were all black. Gaertner also says the state legislature should revisit or clarify the law against negligent vehicular homicide.
In response to my question asking why she threw in the towel on the case, Gaertner cited the difficulty of getting a jury that could fairly adjudicate the case as well as the loss of collective community support for additional punishment of Lee. I came away from Gaertner’s presentation thinking that she may be the most thin-skinned and pathetic elected public official I’ve ever personally encountered.
Michael Fumento exposed the absurdity of Lee’s exculpatory claims in an excellent New York Post column this past August. For some reason Fumento’s analysis has never seen the light of day in the local media.
Moving from the realm of tragedy we now enter the realm of farce. Today’s news brings word that Lee and his family have filed a lawsuit in federal district in St. Paul against Toyota. Toyota is alleged to be responsible for the problems flowing from Lee’s conviction and punishment. According to the Star Tribune, Lee alleges he required psychological counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder because of both the accident and his imprisonment and that he now requires sleep medication.
The case of Koua Fong Lee represents a horrendous miscarriage of justice, but it’s not the one we’ll be reading about in Minnesota for the foreseeable future.
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