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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Case of jailed Toyota driver affronts fairness

To begin with, it took nine months to file charges. Then there was the charge itself - vehicular homicide - which never did fit the facts of the case. Koua Fong Lee was returning home from church with his family when his Camry suddenly sped out of control on an exit ramp reaching speeds of 70-90 mph before crashing into another vehicle and resulting in the deaths of three people. Lee has steadfastly maintained that he repeatedly pressed the brake pedal but the car wouldn't stop, yet Lee's attorney (lest we forget, Lee is an immigrant who came to this country to escape dirt poor living conditions) sided with the prosecution by stating in his closing remarks to the jury that Lee probably mistook the accelerator for the brake.

Lee was found guilty, sentenced to a whopping eight years in prison, and would have remained quietly tucked away behind bars except for breaking news of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyotas. With a new lawyer, thousands registering support on a Facebook page, street protests, and mainstream media coverage, a hearing was held to determine if Lee should get a new trial. And that's where the story really gets interesting.

Lee's new attorney presented bombshell testimony showing that Lee's car had anti-lock brakes, accounting for the absence of skid marks. At Lee's "trial" there had been false testimony - by a city mechanic - stating that Lee's car did not have anti-lock brakes, and this testimony went unchallenged even though Lee's attorney had a letter from Lee's insurance company stating that the car's brake light was engaged. Sooo... with their opposition to a new trial smellin' worse than a kettle of rotten fish - and the case now making national headlines - the DA's office made a desperate, last ditch effort to dump the blame on Lee by offering to release him from prison if he would agree to drop his petition for a new trial and walk away a convicted felon. Talk about cheap shots. How many folks - with five and a half years of prison time to go - would have refused such an offer? If any, not many, and the prosecution knew it. But this time their victim had the courage of conviction - the sheer bravery - to turn down the offer, maintain his innocence, and proceed with his petition for a new trial. Applause, please, for Koua Fong Lee. Within hours - amidst a groundswell of public outrage over Lee's incarceration - the judge granted a new trial, the DA dismissed the charges declaring "this is over," and Lee was suddenly a free man with a clean record.

Well and good. But it's awfully strange how a mechanic can get a major piece of evidence wrong regarding something as readily verifiable as whether or not a car has anti-lock brakes. Ditto for a defense that allowed this testimony to go unchallenged. And wouldn't it have been a cozy deal for Toyota if Lee could have been bullied into takin' the blame and walkin' away a convicted felon while the matter conveniently faded from public view? Koua's criminal case is over, but it raises troubling questions galore.

Update 8/9/2010 - FB has blocked my Toyota posts from Posts by Everyone, and this morning, Twitter is once again blocking my tweets from real-time results. A new Facebook page (Toyota's cars kill innocent people. Stand up for the truth), and exposure of  false testimony, witheld evidence, etc. in the Koua Fong Lee case is turning up the heat on Toyota. Activists should monitor real-time publications for dirty tricks style censorship. Don't be dupped just because posts appear on profile pages, etc.