In 1990, Han Tak Lee was imprisoned for the death of his 20-year-old mentally ill daughter. She purportedly died in a fire that, at the time, was considered scientifically proven to be arson. In the following 25 years the theory that put Lee behind bars was debunked. Days ago, he was released from the state prison in Houtzdale, Pennsylvania and his bail hearing was successful. Lee plans to live in Queens until a decision is made about whether to have a retrial or not.
For more than two decades, Lee argued that the 1989 fire fire that caused the death of his daughter was nothing but a tragic accident. The woman was killed during a religious retreat that was held at a Pocono Mountain resort. Here are some quotes from news sources about Han Tak Lee’s release from prison:
“Our obligation is to find the truth and reach a prompt and fair adjudication of the issues before us,” Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson said on Friday after Lee asked through an interpreter to express his gratitude. “There is no need for thanks. We are just doing our jobs.”
Publicly, at least, prosecutors are not convinced. They have said an appeal is likely and that they would rely on additional evidence to prove Lee’s guilt if a new trial is ordered.
Testimony at trial largely relied on the theory that blistering and charring in the wood as well as small fractures in the windows of the building were a key indication that an accelerant was used at the time of the fire. Since the trial, however, research has given defense attorneys new ammunition in fighting the charge after these theories were debunked.
“He doesn’t hold it against the United States of America,” said Peter Goldberger, who has worked on Lee’s case for about 15 years.
In 2012, the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals granted his request for an independent examination of evidence. That review, completed in June by a magistrate judge, concluded “much of what was presented to Lee’s jury is now conceded to be little more than superstition.”