Driver in fatal Toyota crash seeks new trial

A St. Paul man who was driving a Toyota in a crash that killed three people petitioned a judge Wednesday for a new trial, saying evidence has surfaced showing the car was prone to defects.

Koua Fong Lee's attorney, Brent Schafer, filed the petition in Ramsey County District Court. Lee, 32, always has insisted he tried to brake his 1996 Camry before it crashed into another car at about 80 to 90 mph after he exited Interstate 94 in St. Paul on June 10, 2006.

But prosecutors told the jury Lee must have hit the gas instead. He was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide in 2007 and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Schafer recently began working to get the case reopened after Toyota recalled several newer Camry models due to sudden acceleration problems. The petition will go to Ramsey County District Judge Joanne Smith, who presided over Lee's trial and sentencing.

"This is about giving a guy a fair shot," Schafer said. "The state may disagree with us that he's innocent. But that's not the discussion for today. Let's give a jury a chance to decide if he's guilty or innocent - with all the cards on the table."

Javis Trice Adams, 33, and his 10-year-old son, Javis Adams Jr., died at the crash scene. Adams' 6-year-old niece, Devyn Bolton, was paralyzed from the neck down, and died shortly after Lee was convicted.

Both sides agreed Monday that experts would examine the wreckage of Lee's car the week of April 19. The police impound lot is still holding it.

"New evidence has now surfaced suggesting that the 1996 Toyota Camry driven by Mr. Lee was prone to mechanical and electromechanical defects," the petition said.

Although 1996 Camrys aren't part of the most recent recalls, Toyota earlier recalled certain 1996 Camrys due to cruise control problems that could cause sudden acceleration. Lee's petition was accompanied by affidavits from 16 people who describe sudden acceleration in their older Toyotas. Seven were 1996 Camrys; the others were Camrys and Tacoma pickups from model years between 1985 and 2003.

Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said her office will "thoroughly review" Lee's petition and affidavits. Prosecutors have 20 days - until April 13 - to file a response.

"As in all post-conviction cases, we will give full and careful consideration to all arguments and evidence presented to us," she said in a statement.

The Innocence Project of Minnesota helped Schafer collect affidavits from the drivers - some of whom contacted him when they read about the Lee case. The petition said affidavits from seven other drivers will be added later.

The petition also said Richard Dusek, of Orchard Lake, Mich., who will inspect Lee's car for the defense, has concluded several possible scenarios could have caused the accident, including a worn cable assembly from the accelerator pedal to the cruise control actuator, a worn cable from the cruise control to the throttle, and a faulty throttle position sensor.

The petition also was signed by attorney Robert Hilliard of Corpus Christi, Texas, who is representing relatives of the crash victims who now believe Lee is innocent, as well as several other people involved in other Toyota accidents blamed on sudden acceleration.

"On numerous occasions, County Attorney Susan Gaertner has publicly said if we show her the evidence she will immediately act on it," Hilliard said in a statement. "Here it is, it is time for her to act. We've now given her more than enough evidence to join with us in asking the court to grant our client an immediate new trial, and we hope they move quickly to release Koua and this time allow a fair trial where the jury hears all of the evidence."

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