Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Minn. juror wonders if Toyota driver deserves new trial

As a man convicted of vehicular homicide pushes for a new trial, some jurors wonder if they would've convicted him had they known about Toyota's troubles.

Koua Fong Lee, 32, is more than two years into an eight-year prison sentence. In June of 2006, his 1996 Toyota Camry slammed into another car, ultimately killing three people.

"I hope they visit the whole issue of whether this was a possible malfunction and that he gets his day," said one juror, who asked to be identified only as juror number six.

Lee has always insisted he tried to stop his car, but the brakes did not work. An expert found nothing wrong with the brakes, so prosecutors argued Lee must have stepped on the accelerator instead. "That was all that was presented to us," juror number six said. "We had no inkling of any of this other stuff that's coming out in the news today."

In the wake of Toyota's sudden acceleration problems, the juror wonders if that would've been enough to create reasonable doubt. "People need to be aware that if we were presented with evidence back then that there could have been an issue, I believe things would have been different and I don't know that it would have gone as far as a trial," juror number six said.

KARE attempted to reach other jurors from Lee's case. Some did not return messages, others could not be reached and one declined to comment. But two other jurors told the St. Paul Pioneer Press they're having second thoughts about the verdict.

Lee is trying to get his case reopened. Relatives of the victims now support his efforts and believe he's innocent. And Ramsey County prosecutors are open to taking another look at the car. "But there needs to be evidence that a wrongful conviction occured," Ramsey County attorney Susan Gaertner told KARE 11 in late February. "We can't go by media reports of things that happened elsewhere with other vehicles."

Brent Schafer, Lee's attorney, hopes to meet with prosecutors in the next couple weeks to see if getting a new trial is possible. If not, he'll try to get experts to take another look at the car. No matter what happens, he plans to ask a judge for a new trial.

The '96 Camry is not part of Toyota's recent recalls and its acceleration system has a different design. Still, it has received complaints about sudden unintended acceleration, according to a review of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's complaint database.

Juror number six just hopes the case comes to a close with no lingering questions left unanswered. She lost her sister and niece to a car accident about 25 years ago and knows how tough it can be for everyone involved. "Ultimately, to be honest with you, I hope that people can find some kind-of peace after such a tragic accident," she said.

Original report here

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