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After months of insisting he was wrongfully convicted of vehicular homicide, a Minnesota man in prison for a fatal Toyota crash sought a new trial last week. Attorneys for Koua Fong Lee filed their petition seeking a new trial on March 23 in Ramsey County District Court and provided county prosecutors with new evidence to support Lee’s alleged innocence. The day before, prosecutors had agreed to a new inspection of Lee’s vehicle in mid-April. “The county attorney herself — I’ve seen her twice on TV say, ‘We need to see evidence.’ Well, here it is. It’s time for her to act,” said Lee’s lawyer, Robert Hilliard of Corpus Christi, Texas’ Hilliard Munoz Guerra. Hilliard said that he’s given the prosecutor “more than enough evidence” to prove that a new trial is warranted. He said he’s submitted 16 affidavits from individuals who experienced sudden acceleration in older model Toyota vehicles, including seven with the same 1996 Camry model that Lee drove. Hilliard also said he’s been contacted by a defense attorney in Portland, Ore., with a client in prison for a fatal car crash involving an older model Toyota. That man also argues he was wrongfully convicted, Hilliard said. According to Hilliard and an assistant to solo practitioner Steven Sherlag, the Portland lawyer has a client, Abdul Fatah, who was convicted in 2006 of vehicular manslaughter. Sherlag is considering seeking a new trial in light of the acceleration scandal, they said. In the Minnesota case, Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide in 2007 and sentenced to eight years in prison for a 2006 crash that killed three people. He was driving a Camry that crashed into another car, killing a man, his 10-year-old son and his 7-year-old niece. Lee maintained that his brakes had failed. Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner has until April 13 to file an answer to Lee’s petition for a new trial. She said, “We are anxious to move beyond media speculation and into the courtroom dealing with facts.” While Gaertner said she remains “open minded” about new information, she noted that, at trial, “the defendant was specifically asked if the car accelerated without him putting his foot on the pedal, and he said no.” The defense’s argument was that Lee panicked and was confused about which pedal he was pushing. Meanwhile, Gaertner said, her office is getting a “fair amount of calls and e-mails” regarding the case. “People in church are even stopping me and saying, ‘I’m glad you’re taking a look at this.’” By mutual agreement between the county attorney and defense lawyers, Lee’s Camry will be inspected on April 20-21 to determine whether it has defects that could have contributed to the collision. The 1996 Camry model is not part of the recent recalls and has a different acceleration system, but Lee’s lawyers maintain that older models had problems too. According to Hilliard, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received at least 15 reports of sudden acceleration in 1996 Toyota vehicles. To date, more than 2,000 complaints of sudden, unintended acceleration have been reported to Toyota or government agencies regarding various Toyota models.

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