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Koua Fong Lee

Other Minnesota Exonerations
In June 2006, while Koua Fong Lee and his family were driving home from church in St. Paul, Minnesota, Lee’s 1996 Toyota Camry suddenly accelerated to 90 miles per hour and crashed into the back of another car, killing three people and injuring others.

Thirty-three-year-old Javis Adams and his 10-year-old son, Javis, Jr., perished. Adams's six-year-old niece, Devyn Bolton, was left a quadriplegic. Two other passengers in Adams's car--his father and his daughter--were injured and survived.

There were no skid marks, which authorities said indicated that Lee did not brake before the crash. Lee maintained that he had tried to stop the car, but it failed to respond. However, nine months later, he was charged with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide and three counts of criminal vehicular injury.

Lee went to trial in Ramsey County Circuit Court in October 2007. One witness said Lee's car took off "like a rocket" and slammed into the Adams car, which was stopped at an intersection. Lee's attorney suggested that Lee might have hit the wrong pedal, intending to brake, but instead stepped on the gas. Accident reconstruction experts testified that Lee's car was moving between 72 and 92 miles per hour when the crash occurred.

On October 12, 2007, a jury convicted Lee of all of the charges and he was sentenced to 8 years in prison. Eight days later, Devyn Bolton died.
Two years later, in 2009, other Toyota drivers complained about sudden acceleration, and Toyota began to recall millions of cars, though not the 1996 Camry.  With help from the Innocence Project of Minnesota, Lee’s new attorney tracked down other drivers who had experienced similar sudden acceleration in cars similar to Lee’s.

The new attorney also pointed out that Lee’s car had anti-lock brakes, which meant that there would be no skid marks if Lee had tried to brake -- a fact Lee’s original attorney failed to bring up at trial.

Based on this new evidence and the errors of his trial attorney, Lee filed a motion for a new trial.  Just before the trial judge was to rule on his motion, Lee rejected a deal from the prosecution in which he could have been immediately released if he withdrew his motion and pled guilty.  In August 2010, the trial court judge vacated Lee’s conviction and granted him a new trial.  Shortly after the ruling, the prosecution announced that it would not seek a retrial and Lee was released.

Lee and families of the crash victims sued Toyota and in 2015, a federal jury ordered Toyota to pay $11 million in damages, although the jury ordered Lee's $1.2 million portion to be reduced by 40 per cent.

In 2016, the Minnesota legislature approved $395,148 in compensation for Lee.
- Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 4/22/2017
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:8 years
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No