Hearing Begins For Toyota Camry Driver In Prison For Fatal Crash

In a hearing that begins today, a Minnesota man jailed after his 1996 Toyota Camry sped out of control and killed three people seeks a new trial, as nearly a hundred of his supporters rally outside the courthouse demanding his immediate release.

Koua Fong Lee, 32, is serving eight years for criminal vehicular manslaughter in Lino Lakes state prison for the 2006 St. Paul crash in which his Camry crashed into an Oldsmobile, killing driver Javis Adams, his 10-year-old son and injuring Adams' seven-year-old niece Devyn Bolton, who later died of her injuries. Lee has insisted he pressed the brakes but that the car would not stop.

Lee's attorneys maintain the accident was caused by unintended acceleration and are seeking a new trial via the hearing, which is expected to last through Wednesday. Judge Joanne Smith will then determine whether a new trial will be granted, and whether Lee will be freed from prison pending trial.

"I am confident that we can show Koua's Toyota ran away on him," said Bob Hilliard, one of Lee's attorneys. "Koua's Toyota would not respond to his braking."

Brent Schafer, also representing Lee, said they will present new evidence that shows he deserves a new trial. "We'll call witnesses who have also experienced throttle control problems in their 1996 Camry."

The Ramsey County prosecutor's office says there is 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.

Schaefer said they have not yet determined if Lee will take the stand at the hearing, but said, "He's anxious to have another opportunity to establish he did nothing wrong."

Judge Joanne Smith will hear both sides and will determine if a new trial will be granted.

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Outside of the courthouse this morning, nearly 100 supporters gathered to show their support of Lee by carrying signs that read 'Free Koua,' 'New evidence should equal new trial' and 'Toyota is getting away with murder.' The rally began with a prayer for the victims' families and included the reading of a letter from Koua's wife and several speeches.

"We expect Koua to be released pending a new trial," said Trudy Baltazar, the organizer of the rally. "And we want his name to be cleared and his reputation to be restored."

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