Thursday, February 25, 2010

Koua Fong Lee, Toyota, Prison and Life Issues


(Update November 5, 2010)

In view of several comments on this post, It's obvious that I did not make my central point clearly. I'll try to correct that deficit by repeating excerpts from later in the post here - and a bit of explanation.

First, the excerpts. You'll see the same words later in this post. I'm copying them, not moving them.

New Trial for a Convicted Killer?!

I don't think that Mr. Lee was driving a lethally defective car. I don't think that he wasn't.

I do think that his case should be reviewed. And - most certainly - that a concerted effort should be made to determine if his Toyota was defective. If it was, others of that age may be, too: and quite a few may still be in use.
(view this excerpt in context)
That excerpt was immediately followed by this:

Trusting the American Courts - to a Point

I've talked with people who have a great deal of faith in the American judicial system. They think, correctly, that this country has a pretty good method for sorting out fact from opinion and imagination in criminal cases.

But I wouldn't trust my life with the American courts - or anyone else's.

The problem I have is that I've read the news and researched some of the stories for quite a few decades now. And, I've got a pretty good memory.

You'll read, maybe once or twice a year, about some convicted 'rapist' who was released from prison. Not because someone felt sorry for him: because evidence taken at the scene, years ago, got analyzed with today's forensic technology.
(view this excerpt in context)
Please note: I think that some people who are convicted of serious crimes are, in fact guilty. I am quite sure, based on anecdotal evidence, that some are not.

The American judicial system can release a person from prison, if that person's innocence is later established. Saying 'oops, sorry about that' may not be much comfort - but at least the wrongly convicted person has some portion of his or her life left to work with.

Not even the Supreme Court of the United States of America can unkill a person. If someone is executed, and later found innocent, saying 'oops, sorry about that' is all that can be done.

That was, essentially, the point I was trying to make.

Perhaps this explanation will help.

Perhaps not.

Following is the post, in its original form.
In 1996, a car raced up an interstate ramp, going between 70 and 90 miles an hour. An innocent child and his father were killed right away, when the car they were in was rear-ended.

Are your emotions engaged yet? It gets worse.

Another child, a (no doubt darling) six-year-old girl, was paralyzed from the neck down, and died not long after the accident.

The driver of the runaway car had been driving for only a year - and was one of those foreigners. A mechanic, looking at what was left of the foreigner's car after the wreck, said that the brakes worked fine.

Obviously, that foreigner was to blame for two - later three - deaths.

That's what surviving family of the dead people thought: and a jury agreed.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Shocked? Horrified? At such a short sentence, or that he wasn't put to death for his horrific crime?

Don't be. The foreigner may have been innocent.

The car he was driving was a Toyota, and his account of what happened in 1996 sounds just like what's happened to other Toyota automobiles.

You may have already heard about all this in the news:
"Ever since his 1996 Toyota Camry shot up an interstate ramp, plowing into the back of an Oldsmobile in a horrific crash that killed three people, Koua Fong Lee insisted he had done everything he could to stop the car.

"A jury didn't believe him, and a judge sentenced him to eight years in prison. But now, new revelations of safety problems with Toyotas have Lee pressing to get his case reopened and his freedom restored. Relatives of the victims - who condemned Lee at his sentencing three years ago - now believe he is innocent and are planning to sue Toyota. The prosecutor who sent Lee to prison said he thinks the case merits another look...."

"...At his 2007 trial, Lee testified he was certain he tried to brake. But a city mechanic testified the brakes worked fine, and Carruthers, the prosecutor, argued Lee must have hit the gas by mistake. Lee's attorney at trial, Tracy Eichorn-Hicks, seemed to concede as much, arguing Lee's actions fell short of gross negligence...."
(AP)

A 2006 Jury, Facts and Background

I don't have a transcript of the trial, and don't know what the jury had to work with: but what's come out in the news doesn't seem to show that they were particularly unreasonable.

Drivers have been known to get the accelerator and brake pedals confused (I haven't, and can't imagine doing so, but not everybody's like me, thank God).

In 2006, Toyota still had a reputation for building reliable cars.

The Camry Mr. Lee was driving is older than the ones that have been recalled - so far.

I don't think that Mr. Lee's ethnicity - he's Hmong-American, if that's the way you put it - had that much influence on the jury.

On the other hand, in 2004 Chai Soua Vang, another Hmong immigrant, shot eight people in Wisconsin, killing six. His account differed from that of the survivors: it's quite possible that he shot those people because one of them called him a bad name. I don't like being insulted, myself: but his reaction seems to have been a bit extreme.

Memories of that mass-murder, and the (in my view) misguided efforts by Minnesota's best and brightest to enlighten the Masses about their cultural insensitivity would have been fresh in the minds of quite a few people in 2006, when Mr. Lee's trial took place.

It can't have helped his case.

New Trial for a Convicted Killer?!

I don't think that Mr. Lee was driving a lethally defective car. I don't think that he wasn't.

I do think that his case should be reviewed. And - most certainly - that a concerted effort should be made to determine if his Toyota was defective. If it was, others of that age may be, too: and quite a few may still be in use.

Trusting the American Courts - to a Point

I've talked with people who have a great deal of faith in the American judicial system. They think, correctly, that this country has a pretty good method for sorting out fact from opinion and imagination in criminal cases.

But I wouldn't trust my life with the American courts - or anyone else's.

The problem I have is that I've read the news and researched some of the stories for quite a few decades now. And, I've got a pretty good memory.

You'll read, maybe once or twice a year, about some convicted 'rapist' who was released from prison. Not because someone felt sorry for him: because evidence taken at the scene, years ago, got analyzed with today's forensic technology.

DNA is wonderful stuff. It can show that someone left microscopic bits of himself at the scene of a crime. It can also show that the microscopic bits of someone couldn't possibly have come from someone who was convicted for the crime.

The stories that I've read, of men exonerated by new DNA evidence, have been of people who were in prison. Not of people who were executed.

I'm not a particularly calm, even-tempered man. I think I understand the feeling that so-and-so should die for some crime. That doesn't mean that I think it's a good idea.

American courts have the power to release prisoners.

But I doubt that the most earnest Supreme Court judge, back in the heyday of social engineering, thought that the Supreme Court of the United States of America could raise someone from the dead.

I've written about that sort of thing before.

Related posts:In the news:

9 comments:

ThatDeborahGirl said...

I don't think that Mr. Lee's ethnicity - he's Hmong-American, if that's the way you put it - had that much influence on the jury.

Exactly. Because what in your experience as a white male in America has ever led to your being discriminated against by how you look?

I don't think that Mr. Lee was driving a lethally defective car. I don't think that he wasn't.

You've got to be kidding? After all the evidence to the contrary. The fact that he had his own family members with him in the car. The fact that it has been shown that other Camry's the same make, model & year as his have had the same problem. The fact that Toyota knew of the acceleration problems as early as 1993 and did nothing! Said nothing!

Wake up man! Wake up!

Toyota owes Mr. Lee, his family and the family of those who were killed so senselessly more than they can ever repay.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

ThatDeborahGirl,

I'm quite awake. Enough so to realize that I don't have all the information I'd need for a definite opinion.

My guess is that the Toyota-manufactured vehicle was defective. It's an informed guess, but a guess, nonetheless.

Ethnicity may not have had an influence on the outcome of Mr. Lee's trial. I'd prefer to believe that it didn't. On the other hand, there's my personal experience with (a few) people who were as melanin-deficient as I am: who would loudly opine on the atrocious driving ability of those - here it varied. Sometimes it was people whose ancestors clearly came from east Asia, sometimes it was folks from another obviously non-WASP group.

That left quite an impression.

And then, there's "Bang-Bang Vang," as some witty fellows called him, who killed members of a hunting party. He's Hmong - living in America, along with quite a few other people from that part of the world - and not the sort of individual I'd prefer to be unrestrained.

Not because he's Hmong. Because he apparently believed - and believes - that it's okay to kill people who insult him.

A few centuries back, that might have been acceptable behavior. Now, not so much.

Regrettably, discussion in media tended, at first, to focus on those dangerous Hmong. I think someone in editorial saw what was happening, and shifted gears.

But that's another story.

The point is that, with my particular background, when I see someone who isn't one of the 'right sort' of person, by traditional American standards, convicted in an emotion-laden case: It's quite possible for me to consider the possibility that ethnicity was a factor.

Maybe it wasn't.

And, re-reading this post, I may have put too much emphasis on Mr. Lee's ethnicity.

On the other hand, I keep running into this sort of "fu*k japan!!!" statement:

"RT @[redacted]: : Japanese whalers blame Sea Shepherd for smallest catch in years http://bit.ly/apCzQk Victory! fu*k japan!!!
1:44 PM Apr 13th via TweetDeck"

I'm not the person who "retweeted" that statement, by the way. I remember post-WWII America too well.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

I also think a clarification may be called for. Your second paragraph read:

"Exactly. Because what in your experience as a white male in America has ever led to your being discriminated against by how you look?"

I believe I have related experiences which encouraged me to consider the possibility that ethnicity was a factor in Mr. Lee's conviction.

Addressing the matter of my being "white male in America:" I grew up in the sixties, and spent quite a bit of time in colleges and universities after that.

Yes, I'm "a white male living in America." In the particular subculture I was immersed in, being given labels like male chauvinist pig and racist oppressor didn't result in having the privileged position one might think.

Then, there's my family. I'm half-Irish. A quarter-Irish, from the point of view of the 'proper' people whose blood was sullied by an Irishman.

As one of my ancestors said, about one of my grandfathers: "He doesn't have family. He's Irish."

I don't hold a grudge: The Irish weren't 'proper' people then. But I haven't forgotten that prejudice can exist. Even in 'nice' people.

Anonymous said...

I was shocked when I read this article. That someone wrote what they did about how this man was unable to control a car that was beyond control. Apparently you weren't in the court room during the new hearing. That's too bad because I was there, all 4 days and I heard all the testimony along with the judge. Apparently you didn't read the judge's comments either (which are publicly available). Which means you're just ignorant of the facts. I would encourage you to look up the Forensic Engr that testified at Koua's hearing in August - you can read his 40 yrs worth of studies on Sudden Unintended Acceleration. You're nothing but an uninformed/ignorant, prejudice jerk who is not qualified to judge this because you obviously do not know all the facts.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Anonymous,

You could be right.

However, as an "uninformed/ignorant, prejudice jerk," I am also aware that this was an emotionally wrenching case. In situations like this, where innocent people are killed, it's quite natural to look around for someone to blame.

Maybe Mr. Lee's ethnicity had absolutely nothing to do with the verdict. I rather hope so.

Between this case and "Bang-Bang Vang," people in the Minnesota area who don't like foreigners have had ample opportunity to vent their spleen.

But, as I said, you could be right.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Everybody else,

Re-reading this post, I decided that it needed clarification. I updated the first part last night: excerpting a few key paragraphs and placing them, with an explanation, at the top of the post.

At the risk of revealing myself once again as a "white male in America" and an "uninformed/ignorant, prejudice jerk," I'll summarize the points I was trying to make:

* I do not know whether Mr. Lee is guilty or not. What I know is that he was behind the wheel of one car which was involved in a collision that killed some people.

* Judges can make mistakes.

* Juries can make mistakes.

* Even engineers can make mistakes.

* Judges and juries can put other people in prison if they want to.

* Judges and juries can release other people from prison if they want to.

* Judges and juries can kill other people if they want to.

* Judges and juries can not 'unkill' other people if they want to.

Anonymous said...

fucking racist cunt

i hope ur entire family dies of car fire

Anonymous said...

typical racist white cunt

i hope ur entire family dies of car fire

Brian Gill said...

Anonymous and Anonymous of February 24, 2011,

Considering what you appear to assume is the nature of this post, a reply to your comments seems pointless.

Everybody else,

This sort of response happens from time to time. In the case of Anonymous's February 24, 2011, comments, it's impossible to tell whether the criticisms stem from my having European ancestry; or from my faith.

Either way, they reflect a not-uncommon aspect of contemporary American culture. I've discussed related topics before:

"Assumptions About Religion, and American Rules of Etiquette"
(April 14, 2010)

""Get f****d, Catholic Church" - It Comes With the Territory"
(March 18, 2009)

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

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