Proposed Legislation Could Help Wrongfully Imprisoned and Exonerated

Updated: 01/28/2014 5:51 PM
Created: 01/28/2014 5:32 PM
By: Brandi Powell

When criminals are convicted of a crime, they're put behind bars and get a parole officer to help them transition back into a regular daily life.

If they serve time, but are later found innocent and exonerated, there's nothing in place in Minnesota to help them put their life back together. Some people are trying to change that.
The federal government has a version of a compensation bill. Twenty-nine other states and the District of Columbia do too.

As legislators explained Tuesday at the capitol, Minnesota is in the minority. "We intend to pass a state law that will compensate people that were exonerated for crimes they have been wrongfully convicted of and imprisoned for," Senator Ron Latz said. He is Chair of the Judiciary Committee.

The proposed legislation would give money for basic needs, medical and dental care, and help finding a job. If it passes, two men, Koua Fong Lee and Michael Hansen, would be grandfathered in. If it does not, there's no existing Minnesota law in place to help them.

What's the price for spending years behind bars, away from your wife and kids, for a crime you didn't commit?

For Fong Lee of St. Paul, the answer is simple. "Nothing can buy the time that I was in prison and far away from my children." Fong Lee was put in prison for speeding and killing a couple in 2006 when he rammed into their car.

Later, Toyota learned about unintended acceleration in some of its vehicles. That gave Fong Lee an opening for a new trial, and he was exonerated.

He believes this proposed law could help others avoid the trouble he's endured. When KSTP 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reporter Brandi Powell asked Fong Lee if this makes him hopeful, he answered: "Yes, because I am here not just because of only me, but because I hope this will pass for our future, for all of the people in Minnesota.

This bill will be introduced this session at the capitol. As far as compensation goes, these legislators have it capped at $700,000.


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