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"We think Mr. Lee is innocent and should be granted a new trial," Julie Jonas, managing attorney of the Innocence Project of Minnesota, said Thursday as she confirmed that the group is helping Koua Fong Lee's criminal defense attorney collect evidence to support his request for a new trial.
Lee, 32, is serving an eight-year prison sentence after his 1996 Toyota Camry accelerated up the Snelling Avenue exit ramp off Interstate 94 in June 2006 and crashed into another vehicle. Javis Adams, 33, and his 10-year-old son, Javis Jr., died at the scene. Adams' niece, Devyn Bolton, died about 1 1/2 years later at age 7. Two others in the car were injured. Lee was convicted in 2007 of criminal vehicular homicide.
Lee's attorney, Brent Schafer, along with Bob Hilliard, a Texas attorney who is helping the victims' families look into a lawsuit against Toyota, and a professional engineer hired by Hilliard, plan to meet Monday morning with prosecutor Phil Carruthers and others from the Ramsey County attorney's office.
"Basically we're going to throw all our cards on the table and say this is what we have and under Minnesota law, there's no question he [Lee] is entitled to a new trial," Schafer said Thursday.
Schafer said he has received calls and e-mails from Toyota owners across the country whose vehicles malfunctioned.
Jonas and a student from the University of Minnesota Law School, working with the Innocence Project, have been contacting those people during the past two weeks and are compiling their statements into affidavits.
Those will be among the new evidence that Schafer will present to the county attorney's office, which he hopes will join him in his quest to free Lee and grant him a new trial.
"I don't think they're going to agree with me," Schafer said. "It seems like the county attorney's office is still focusing on the car. ... People are under the assumption that I have to prove the car is defective. I don't have to prove any of that right now."
Carruthers, however, would not rule out an agreement.
"We'll listen and certainly be open to what they have to present to us," he said Thursday. "I'd be surprised if it's something we decide right that day. I suspect they'll have information we'll have to review and then discuss with our own experts."
Schafer said that if no agreement is reached he will move ahead with a petition for post-conviction relief with the court. The county attorney's office will have 20 days to respond, and a judge will decide whether to convene a new hearing.
Pat Pheifer • 612-741-4992