Former NYC businessman, Han Tak Lee, 79, spent more than 24 years in prison after being convicted of setting a fire that killed his mentally ill daughter.  U.S. District Judge William Nealon threw out Lee’s conviction and sentence of life without parole after it was revealed that the state’s case was based upon bad science.  Prosecutors said they plan to appeal, but have not decided whether they want to retry him if that fails.  They have acknowledged that the passage of time would make a retrial difficult.  20-year-old Ji Yun Lee died in 1989.

In the meantime, Lee will be released from the maximum-security prison he has spent the last quarter of a century in.  Prosecutors have conceded that their case was based upon faulty science, but insist the verdict was still correct.  Lee, a native of South Korea who became a U.S. citizen 30 years ago, has never expressed bitterness,

“He doesn’t hold this against the United States of America,” said Peter Goldberger, who has worked on Lee’s case for about 15 years, “He’s an American…this is his home.”

Lee has always maintained his innocence and has long said that the 1989 fire that killed his daughter was accidental.  Lee had taken his daughter to a religious retreat in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains to get her therapy when she was killed.  In 2012, the 3rd Circuit appeals court granted Lee’s request for an independent examination of the evidence.  That review was completed two months ago and it concluded that “much of what was presented to [the] jury as science is…little more than superstition.”

At the time of Lee’s trial, it was accepted science that hot, intense fires indicate accelerant was used.  In addition, it was also accepted in the scientific community that the presence of deep charring or shiny blistering in wood, as well as “crazed glass”  (tiny fractures) were caused by arson.  Scientific research since has proved these and other previously accepted notions about arson to be false.  Lee’s case is one of many around the country coming under scrutiny because of outdated science.


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