The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 27, 2014

Bill would compensate people wrongly imprisoned

Law would impact people like Koua Fong Lee who spent three years in prison

ST. PAUL — People who are wrongfully imprisoned in Minnesota could see at least $50,000 a year for every year spent behind bars under a measure lawmakers are considering.

Such a bill could help people like Koua Fong Lee, whose conviction in a crash involving a Toyota was set aside after new evidence surfaced that showed owners of similar cars had issues with sudden acceleration, Minnesota Public Radio News reported (http://bit.ly/OXNUpY ). The court also found he had ineffective counsel at his original trial. He was released in 2010 after three years in prison.

"When I was in prison, I missed the birth of my youngest child. It's very important for my family, and I missed that," Lee said.

Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, and the chief author of the House bill, said in many cases, those who were convicted of a crime get greater support when they leave prison than those who have been exonerated.

"Rather than say to them, 'Well, too bad so sad, go your (own) way, you're free now,' we're going to try to do our best to make you whole," Lesch said. "Granted it probably doesn't, because their life is still changed, but we think this is a step in the right direction."

The bill would also help Michael Hansen, who served nearly seven years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of killing his infant daughter. A later investigation found her skull was damaged when she fell from a shopping cart. He walked out of prison in 2011.

Hansen said the law won't give him his life back, but it will hold prosecutors to a higher standard.

"I'm not trying to get rich off of it," he said. "I want as much of my life back as I can get. Unfortunately, the world revolves around that, money. I want to get back to where I was, and I want to be compensated for my loss."

The Minnesota County Attorneys Association is opposed to the measure. Executive Director John Kingrey said some people who have charges dismissed aren't necessarily innocent. He's working with the bill's authors on a compromise.

The Minnesota Innocence Project, which worked to get Lee and Hansen released, said three people have been convicted and later exonerated in Minnesota in the past 15 years.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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