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Koua Fong Lee freed, state won’t seek a new trial

Mark Cohen//August 5, 2010//

Koua Fong Lee freed, state won’t seek a new trial

Mark Cohen//August 5, 2010//

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Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner

In a move widely anticipated in legal circles, Koua Fong Lee, serving an 8-year sentence for a criminal vehicular homicide after his Toyota crashed and killed three people, was granted a new trial and released. (Prosecutors will not retry him.)

The court cited new evidence and errors made by his trial counsel, Tracy Eichhorn Hicks, the Strib reports.

Lee’s lawyer’s were obviously feeling the moment, perhaps too much. They laid down the legal equivalent of a double-dog dare to Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner to retry the case. Again, from the Strib:

Before Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner’s statement saying that she would not seek a new trial, Lee’s attorneys expressed confidence that Gaertner would not attempt to try Lee again.

“He will never be retried,” said [Lee defense attorney Bob] Hilliard. “They don’t have the facts. I invite Susan [Gaertner, the county attorney] to retry it.”

Added Lee’s co-counsel, Brent Schafer: “I’m happy to retry this case. Bring it on.”

Bravado, and cage matches notwithstanding, I think it’s the right result. Our entire sytem was designed to give the accused the benefit of the doubt, and most of us would be hard-pressed to say we had confidence in that 2006 jury verdict. I was surprised that Gaertner, chose to oppose the motion for a new trial. This ruling, coming at the tail end of her time as county attorney, can’t help but having something of a tarnishing effect on her legacy. It was an odd choice to go out like this.

On the other hand, there’s still four months left in her tenure, and political memories can be short. Gaertner also made the announcement that she would not retry Lee right away, which was a smart move.

Needless to say, the result is also likely to help in any civil action which may result from this case. Stay tuned!

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