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WEEKEND HEADLINES: Somali arrests / Koua Fong Lee freed
Watch for updates throughout the weekend -
Two Minnesota Somali women were charged with aiding al-Shabaab in a new federal indictment released Thursday. Both women were released after a court hearing, and will return to court for further proceedings, according to MPR. The indictment charges Amina Farah Ali, 33, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 63, both of Rochester, with sending money to al-Shabaab. Ali talked to MPR about the FBI investigation in July 2009, and said they told her to stop shipping old clothes to refugees:
In fact, at the same time agents were searching her apartment, a small group of Somali women were folding donated clothes in two alley garages in Ali's apartment complex. Ali says she told the agents she was planning to ship two large containers of clothing to a refugee camp on the outskirts of Somalia's capital city.
"I explained to them that the reason I was doing this was because there's a civil war happening in my country," said Ali. "There were a lot of people displaced from their own homes, and going to refugee camps all over the continent of Africa, including outside of Mogadishu. So, my instincts told me it was my duty to help out the Somali poor people who left everything behind."
Ali says the agents told her to stop collecting clothes.
Koua Fong Lee is a free man today, after more than three years behind bars on charges stemming from a 2006 crash that killed three people. Lee was driving a Toyota and maintained all along that the car had raced out of his control. Bridgette Trice, the mother and grandmother of the three people who died, said, "It's still not going to bring back my loss, but I'm glad the innocent got released."
Ramsey County District Court judge Joanne Smith, who presided over both the original trial and the motion for a new trial, agreed that Smith's trial attorney had not adequately represented him. According to MPR:
Smith even took some of the blame herself, saying she'd had doubts at the time about the propriety of Lee's defense -- that his attorney was telling a different story to the jury than Lee himself. She told a packed courtroom that she had wondered for years if she should have intervened at the time.
In his NewsCut blog, Bob Collins took an even stronger line:
There are too many law schools in America turning out too many bad lawyers. Of the many head-shaking revelations in the aftermath of Koua Fong Lee's release from prison yesterday, that one doesn't seem to be getting the attention it deserves. Suppose the lawyer, whose closing arguments before the jury a few years ago basically said her client's testimony was wrong (what law school taught that technique?), had been a doctor. What punishment would await? Lee's testimony wasn't wrong, apparently. His story -- that his car killed three people in St. Paul in 2006 because the Toyota's accelerator got stuck -- never changed. But he got stuck with a bad lawyer for counsel, and the misfortune to run up against a county attorney who opposed a new trial.
Ramsey County attorney Susan Gaertner said that her office will not seek a new trial, that Lee's evidence was "compelling," and that his release shows that the system worked. Local lawyers asked why, if the evidence was so compelling, she opposed the motion for a new trial and offered Lee a new deal last week that would have had him admit to the charges? And, as Collins wrote:
An apparently innocent man went to prison for two years. No system that's designed to work has that scenario in it.
Lee said the first thing he will do now is to get to know his children again.