Driver in Fatal Toyota Crash Freed; Judge Cites Lawyer Errors in First Trial
Posted Aug 6, 2010 6:17 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A Minnesota man who spent 2½ years in jail for vehicular homicide in a fatal 2006 Toyota crash is a free man after his new lawyers questioned the original trial strategy in a hearing this week.
Judge Joanne Smith of Ramsey County ruled Thursday that a new trial was warranted because of the new evidence and errors by his lawyer in the original case, according to the Associated Press, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Koua Fong Lee, 32, has always maintained he was pressing the brakes when his 1996 Camry crashed into an Oldsmobile stopped at a red light, killing three people. Eleven people who owned cars similar to Lee's Camry testified this week about unintended acceleration on their vehicles.
But the lawyer in the original trial, Tracy Eichhorn-Hicks, didn't pursue an unintended acceleration defense. Instead, he argued in summation that Lee must have been accidentally stepping on the accelerator, the Pioneer Press story says.
Smith said Eichhorn-Hicks should have hired his own expert to examine Lee’s car and should have uncovered evidence about sudden acceleration in Toyotas. The judge did agree, however, that most reports of sudden acceleration in 1995 and 1996 Camrys were not available at the time of Lee’s trial.
Prosecutors opted to drop the case after Lee rejected a deal that would have freed him immediately but left a felony on his record. Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Lee began to sob when his lawyers informed him of the prosecutors’ decision. He told reporters his release is a dream come true.