Parker testimony brings Tuesday action to a close
The late afternoon court session in the W.R. Grace trial dealt with government witness Mel Parker. His testimony touched on his process of buying land near the mine, the cleanup of the land, and disputes over Parker’s 2001 deposition.
After the recess, Parker described the cleanup for the shed on his land. He said his wife Lerah, their stepdaughter, also named Lerah, and an employee of his nursery swept out the shed after purchasing the land from Grace. They wore only flimsy paper masks, because “no one told us there were dangers” in the shed, Parker testified.
Throughout Parker’s testimony, the defense enthusiastically objected to anything resembling heresay or speculation. A couple of times, defense lawyers shot out of their chairs to object, only to be silenced by another defense lawyer objecting.
Parker said the dust near the property became a nuisance, particularly with logging trucks kicking it up in great clouds. So much dust was scattered by the trucks that “sometimes you could only see the (logging truck’s) cab” when it came down the Rainy Creek Road, Parker said. That dust then traveled quickly to Parker’s land, he believed.
Around Thanksgiving in 1999, Parker testified he first caught wind of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer articles about asbestos exposure in and around Libby. Paul Peronard’s initial visit came soon after. A little time later, Parker said he got a visit from former Libby mine manager Alan Stringer, now deceased, who promised to help in whatever way the company could.
These meetings continued sporadically from November 1999 into the summer of 2000. Pictures were provided during this testimony of large piles of vermiculite, taken in 1999 and 2000, dotting Parker’s land. Kris McLean, the prosecuting attorney, asked Parker if he suffered from any diseases of the lungs. “I have pleural plaque,” Parker said.
The afternoon got very interesting around this time. The 5:00 bell was nearing, and with every minute that passed, more and more heads were swinging to glance at the clock. The weariest, of course, was Mel Parker, whose aggressiveness towards the defense rose a notch. He began slouching more frequently in the witness stand, and his answers became terse and short, as the hours of testimony began to show.
With the court seemingly waiting for Molloy to declare the day finished, defense attorney Thomas Frongillo, representing defendant Robert Bettacchi, attempted to chip away at Parker’s credibility. This process, called impeaching, is used to create the possibility that past and current statements of Parker might not be truthful.
At the heart of Frongillo’s attempt was the 2001 deposition by Parker in a civil suit against W.R. Grace. Frongillo crossed Parker up on quotes from 2001, on issues such as whether or not Parker knew vermiculite was on the land before he purchased it and if it was dangerous or not. In a management proposal accompanying his offer, Parker wrote there were “asbestiform fibers” in the soil. But Parker countered, saying he did not know asbestos was bad for you until 1999.
Frongillo and Parker differed on many issues. They could not agree on how many companies Parker purchased vermiculite from for his nursery. Frongillo contended a Chandler, Ariz., company sold to Parker; Parker said that was false.
Frongillo was in the process of calling another piece of evidence when Molloy decided to recess court until Wednesday. He then advised the jury to “not read any news, discuss the case with anyone, including journalism students.”
Molloy’s parting words capped off another tense day in the W.R. Grace trial. The day began inauspiciously with Judge Molloy sternly reminding the court that the jury should never be contacted in a trial. Mr. Peronard’s testimony ended today, with the cross-examination by the defense. Peronard earlier had been relegated to only a fact witness and a limited expert witness.
Court will begin on Wednesday morning, March 4 at 8:30. Defense attorneys Steven Spivack and Walter Lancaster will finish the cross-examination of Mel Parker.
–Josh Benham (posted 7:30 p.m.)
Posted: March 3rd, 2009 under News.