About 40 people waved signs and chanted in downtown St. Paul late Monday to protest the Ramsey County prosecutors' opposition to a new trial for Koua Fong Lee, who is serving eight years in prison for a collision in which his Toyota killed three people.
Lee has always insisted that the 2006 accident was caused when his 1996 Camry accelerated uncontrollably through an intersection. The protestors, who believe Lee deserves to be set free pending a new trial, chanted "We demand justice" and carried signs reading "Free Koua."
The protest was led by first time rally organizer Trudy Baltazar, a 50-year-old mother of two from Cottage Grove, Minnesota who said she's never met Lee nor participated in a protest before.
"I just felt outraged at the injustice," exclaimed Baltazar. "I felt like his voice wasn't being heard and I knew I had to do what I could to help Lee get a new trial and increase public awareness about his case." Some protestors learned of the protest via a Facebook page about the case that has thousands of fans from around the world.
Lee, 32, is serving eight years for criminal vehicular homicide in Lino Lakes prison for the crash four years ago, in which his Camry sped down an intestate 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. Lee has maintained he applied the brakes as hard as he could but that the car would not stop.
Lee's attorneys have requested a new trial, claiming unintended acceleration was to blame for the problem. The family of the victims has also backed a new trial. Michael Padden, attorney for the victims' family, said his clients are supportive of Lee's motion. "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."
Lee's attorneys succeeded in winning a reinspection of Lee's Camry, and Lee's lawyers and the prosecution both hired experts to prepare reports.
The defense's expert said there was evidence that the throttle was stuck open and that Lee was depressing the brakes at the time of the collision.
"The accelerator-to engine throttle cable and pulley system does not move freely, stays stuck and does not return to idle position…This could have held the throttle open after the accelerator pedal was released for a braking maneuver," wrote Richard Dusek, an engineering expert retained by Lee's attorney.
Experts retained by the Ramsey County attorney's office, however, blamed driver error. They reported that "the best explanation for the event was that Mr. Lee was depressing the throttle as he approached the crash area." Mechanical engineer Wayne Bartlett wrote that "there were no problems with the brakes or throttle system."