Parker fends off defense accusations
The start of Day 9 of the W.R. Grace trial saw the conclusion of Mel Parker’s testimony, followed by that of his wife, Lerah. Dr. Alan Whitehouse was called to the stand for enough time to recount his personal history before the court recessed.
Parker’s testimony on Wednesday went more smoothly than Tuesday’s somewhat rocky session. On Tuesday, the defense repeatedly objected to parts of his answers. There were fewer objections on Wednesday. Parker appeared rejuvenated and was a somewhat terse but well-spoken witness. The defense tried to show that Parker was not an innocent victim and knew full well what he was getting into when he bought the property formerly owned by Grace. The evidence included a couple of newspaper clippings about the mine closing from 1990 but Parker denied having seen them. The defense tried to destroy Parker’s credibility by saying Parker had been informed as early as 1992 of the contamination because of a letter delivered by Libby resident Mike Crill. Parker denied receiving the letter then, saying they weren’t in Libby at the time.
The defense went further, trying to insinuate that Parker bought the property with full knowledge of the asbestos contamination because he knew he could make money from it. The defense showed proposals Parker was offered by the EPA and by Grace, both of which promised money for cleanup and reimbursement.
Grace initially came to the Parkers after the story of Libby’s contamination became well known in 1999. The company offered them first $1.2 million, then later $2 million. The Parkers rejected both offers and suggested $10 million would be more appropriate, which the defense tried to show was a money grab. When the prosecution was allowed to question again, Parker explained that if that sum appeared greedy, it was not. He and his wife had proposed such an outrageous sum because they wanted to show how ridiculous it was to think any amount of money could make up for what they’ve lost, he said.
“And that’s it – that’s the bottom line,” Parker said.
Parker’s nursery was the largest in the region before they found out about the contamination. The prosecution showed a photo of the nursery before the EPA clean-up and asked Parker what remained afterward.
Parker’s voice rose and shook a little as he said, “Sir, everything you see in this picture is gone.
“I was 62 years old then and I don’t have the wherewithal to begin again.”
Just as Parker was becoming more impassioned, Judge Donold Molloy sustained an objection of relevance and the prosecution moved on.
The prosecution continued to down play the issues brought up by the defense, particularly with respect to Parker’s credibility. Parker was allowed to say that he wasn’t testifying to anything different than he has before in any case or deposition. It was often difficult to read the documents on the monitors because an entire blurry page would be projected. Parker had trouble identifying some documents and his squinting was often mirrored by that of the jury. In general, the prosecution focused tightly on the critical parts of the document for people, including jurors, the witness and the gallery. Over and over, the prosecution would project the documents used to discredit Parker and say, “Do you see any statement about the dangers of asbestos?” Parker consistently answered “No.”
Mel Parker was finally released, and his wife Lerah was asked to come in. They met as Lerah came through the gallery and stopped to hug each other for a moment. In the arms of his wife, his ordeal over, Parker teared up a bit, a change from the tough exterior he had projected on the witness stand.
- Laura L. Lundquist (posted 2:55 p.m. Edited 5:30)