Aug. 05, 2010 — -- Koua Fong Lee, the Minnesota man jailed when his 1996 Toyota Camry sped out of control and killed three people, has won his freedom. After a judge ordered him freed pending a new trial, prosecutors announced they would not try Lee again for vehicular homicide.
Following a four-day hearing, Judge Joanne Smith had ruled Thursday afternoon there was enough evidence to grant a new trial to Lee, who had been serving an eight-year sentence. She ordered him freed pending trial.
The Ramsey County prosecutor's office then announced less than an hour later that it would not be refiling charges against Lee.
Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide for a 2006 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 granted an exclusive prison interview to ABC News in February, and at that time told Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross that he pressed the Camry's brakes repeatedly but the car would not stop.
Earlier today Lee 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.
According to ABC affiliate KSTP, Ramsey County, Minnesota prosecutors said Lee could return home to his family if he accepted their offer to plead guilty to the same felony and be released immediately. The terms of the plea would mean Lee would still be a convicted felon with 15 years of probation and his driving privileges would be suspended for 10 years.
Lee, 32, said no to the plea deal.
His defense attorneys told KSTP his reason for rejecting the deal was because he continues to maintain he was pressing the brake at the time of the accident and he is not a felon.
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, 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."
The Ramsey County prosecutor's office said 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.
Susanna Song is a reporter for KSTP-TV.