Lawyers for a driver serving eight years in prison after his out-of-control Toyota killed three people at a Minnesota intersection filed a motion Wednesday demanding a new trial, saying new evidence shows sudden unintended acceleration may have caused the accident.
"We do know that the jury never heard any of this information," said Brent Schafer, lead attorney for Koua Fong Lee, who was convicted of vehicular homicide after his Camry hit another car at more than 70 mph. "We have more than enough evidence to warrant a new trial."
During a closed-door meeting Monday, Schafer presented Ramsey County prosecutor Susan Gaertner with a half-dozen affidavits from drivers of other 1996 Toyota Camrys who claim their cars accelerated suddenly while they were hitting their brakes, as Lee claims he was doing at the time of his 2007 accident.
Gaertner said the nearly two-hour meeting was helpful. "We are committed to considering all relevant evidence and information in this case," said Gaertner, "and taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure justice."
Schafer and Gaertner have also agreed on a date for an inspection of Lee's Camry.
"Barring any unforeseen change, the Toyota Camry driven by Mr. Lee in the fatal crash will be inspected during the week of April 19, 2010," announced Gaertner.
The inspection will be conducted by Richard Dusek, an expert retained by Lee's attorneys, and Wade Bartlett, a mechanical engineer hired by County Attorney Gaertner's office. Gaertner has also asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to participate in the inspection.
"If there is actual evidence of sudden acceleration as a cause of the crash, we want to know it so we can act accordingly," said Gaertner. "We need facts and evidence about this particular car – not just speculation related to the recall of newer Toyotas or individual reports about other Camrys."
In 2006 Lee, then 32, was returning from church with his family when his Camry sped down an interstate ramp and hit an Oldsmobile. The crash killed driver Javis Adams and his 10-year-old son. Another passenger in the Oldsmobile, Adams' seven-year-old niece Devyn Bolton, was left quadriplegic and died a year and a half later.
From the time of the accident, Lee, now incarcerated at Lino Lakes state prison, has maintained he applied the brakes as hard as he could to stop the car.
"I stepped on the brake and nothing happened," Lee told ABC News in an exclusive jailhouse interview last month. "And I yelled to my family, 'The brakes not working, brakes not working!' "
The Toyota recalls and the increasing reports of unintended acceleration problems by Toyota drivers persuaded family members of those killed in the accident to reconsider Lee's claims and prompted their request to have the case reviewed.
"They want the truth, they want answers," said attorney Bob Hilliard, who represents the victims' family. "They finally have a reasonable explanation."
In an interview with ABC News last month, Bridgett Trice, the mother of Devyn Bolton, said, "I do think there's something to it, because we're finding out that there's other cases that are similar to what happened with Mr. Lee's car. There is a terrible wrong done here and there is an innocent man in prison."
"In my heart, the way I feel now, it wasn't his fault," said Quincy Adams, the sole survivor of the crash.
Even a juror from Lee's trial is now questioning whether Lee was responsible for the crash. Danny Buechler of St. Paul told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press that he would like to see Lee released from prison. "I hope he gets mercy," said Buechler.
Toyota's recent safety recalls did not include Lee's Camry, although Toyota did recall select 1996 Camrys for a possible cruise control defect that was linked to sudden acceleration. It has not yet been determined if Lee's car was a part of that recall.
Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said he thought it would be "inappropriate" for the company to comment on the case.