In his first interview since winning freedom yesterday, Koua Fong Lee, the Minnesota man jailed after his 1996 Toyota Camry sped out of control and killed three people, said his two youngest children don't know their father because he's been imprisoned for vehicular homicide for the past three years.
"The first thing I'm going to do is talk to them, to get to know them, to play with them," Lee told ABC News. "I want them to know I am their daddy. I will teach them what the word daddy means."
After a judge ordered Lee freed from prison Thursday pending a new trial, prosecutors announced they would not try Lee again. Following a four-day hearing, Judge Joanne Smith ruled there was enough evidence to grant a new trial to Lee, who had been serving an eight-year sentence for criminal vehicular homicide. He was convicted in a 2006 crash in which his Toyota Camry crashed into an Oldsmobile, killing driver Javis Adams, his 10-year-old son and injuring Adams' seven-year-old nice Devyn Bolton, who later died of her injuries.
Lee's attorney Bob Hilliard credited an ABC News report from Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross for garnering attention on the case.
"It was the result of the ABC report that brought the people to us that said they want to help us," Hilliard said. Lee's attorneys said dozens of witnesses came forward with similar stories of unintended acceleration problems with their 1996 Toyota Camry's, like what happened in Lee's case.
Before the judge's ruling yesterday, Lee, 32, had rejected a plea deal from prosecutors that would have allowed him to go home a free man, but would still brand him a convicted felon and suspend his driving privileges for 10 years with 15 years of probation.
"He'd rather do the time than to admit to something he knows he didn't do," Hilliard said of Lee. "And he had the courage to say… I'd stay here before I do that."
Lee's wife Panghoua Moua was still elated with her husband's homecoming.
"It means the world to me because I've been without him for three years," Moua Lee said. She added that now, "I feel like my family will become a family again."
The Lee's have four children, ranging in age from two-and-a-half to eight-years-old. Moua Lee was pregnant with their youngest child when Lee was imprisoned.
Lee has insisted he pressed the brakes but that the car would not stop.
The hearing, which began Monday, drew scores of Lee supporters. On Monday, nearly a hundred Lee backers rallied outside the courthouse demanding his immediate release.
Lee's attorneys maintain the accident was caused by unintended acceleration.
"I am confident that we can show Koua's Toyota ran away on him," said Bob Hilliard, one of Lee's attorneys, prior to the beginning of the hearing. "Koua's Toyota would not respond to his braking."
Brent Schafer, also representing Lee, had said new evidence showed that Lee deserved a new trial. "We'll call witnesses who have also experienced throttle control problems in their 1996 Camry."
The family of the victims had also backed a new trial. Michael Padden, attorney for the victims' family, said his clients were "shocked" at the plea offer and "disappointed" with the prosecutors. "They think the Ramsey County Attorney's office is being unreasonable," said Padden. "They're shocked that they're dangling a carrot in front of the guy like this, because obviously he wants to be with his family but it's really a crappy offer if you think about it."
"They support Lee's motion for a new trial and in addition support the notion that Lee should never be tried again. They don't believe he has any culpability at all in this matter."
The Ramsey County prosecutor's office had maintained there was no new evidence. In April, two experts hired by the prosecutor re-examined the car and reported "…there were no problems with the brakes or throttle system." They blamed the accident on driver error.
At the time, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner expressed her sympathy to all involved in the accident, while also stating her opposition to a new trial. "But the law is clear," she said. "Newly discovered evidence is required to overturn a conviction. Despite diligent efforts, we found no such evidence."
Lee's attorneys hired their own expert to examine the car, however, and their expert reported there was evidence that the throttle was stuck open and that Lee was pressing the brakes at the time of the collision.