HARRISBURG, PA: On Friday August 22, 2014, Han Tak Lee will breathe the air of freedom for the first time in 24 years. In 1989, Mr. Lee’s daughter died in a tragic fire at a religious retreat cabin they shared. Mr. Lee was wrongly charged with setting the fire intentionally. The testimony used to convince Mr. Lee’s jury the fire was intentionally set has since been debunked through scientific testing and superior experience. After nearly a quarter century, Mr. Lee will soon be reunited with his surviving family and a coterie of supporters while he awaits the Monroe County District Attorney’s decision whether or not to retry him.
In June, after 12 years of litigation through state and federal courts, Chief US Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson recommended Mr. Lee’s release or retrial. Citing “extraordinary progress in human knowledge regarding fire science” over the past 20 years, Magistrate Judge Carlson determined Mr. Lee’s conviction rested upon “invalid” conclusions amounting to “little more than superstition.” Senior US District Judge William J. Nealon adopted Magistrate Judge Carlson’s conclusions on August 8. On August 18, Judge Nealon ordered Mr. Lee’s release after no objection was raised by the Commonwealth. Mr. Lee is expected to walk out of the courthouse after Friday’s bond hearing, when Magistrate Judge Carlson will set conditions for his release pending potential retrial or appeal.
Attorney Peter Goldberger, an Advisory Board member to the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, has represented Mr. Lee throughout his excruciating ordeal. Goldberger was elated by the decision and Mr. Lee’s impending release. “For over a decade, we have tried to convince anyone we could there had never even been a crime here. Mr. Lee’s conviction is a tragedy of multiple proportions: he lost his beloved daughter, was never able to grieve for her, and has spent the past near-quarter century fighting for his freedom.”
Internationally renowned fire dynamics expert John Lentini, who testified for Mr. Lee, said, “There is no shred of credible evidence that this fire was intentionally set. The fact is, Mr. Lee’s jury was misled by objectively false testimony. The level of chicanery and mendacity in this misbegotten case is staggering.”
Under Judge Nealon’s order, Monroe County District Attorney David Christine must decide whether or not his office will attempt to retry Mr. Lee by December 6, 2014. Meanwhile, Mr. Lee will be welcomed home, at long last.