Week 3: Four witnesses finish testifying
A stunted three-day court week saw the wrap up of expert witness testimonies from Paul Peronard, the EPA on-site cleanup coordinator in Libby, and Dr. Alan Whitehouse, a pulmonologist from Spokane, Wash., who brought attention to the high incidence of asbestos-related disease in Libby. Melvin and Lerah Parker, business owners who had purchased property from Grace that was used for Libby’s vermiculite screening plant, also finished their testimonies.
The week started with Judge Donald Molloy calling Monday “a waste of a day” that was perhaps the climax of a victim-witness controversy that has bedeviled the trial. Molloy dismissed the jury Monday saying he wanted to follow orders from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to question victim-witnesses to determine if they could sit in court before their testimonies. However, the appeal backfired for the prosecution as none of the remaining 26 victim witnesses were able to come to Missoula on such short notice. The result scrambled the government’s lineup. Molloy ordered the government to put Mel and Lerah Parker on the witness stand immediately instead of holding them until the finale, as planned. The Parkers’ attorney had filed the victim-witness appeal and the completion of their obligations as witnesses will allow them in the court as spectators.
Peronard finished the final leg of his testimony Tuesday with continued objections from the defense. His expert testimony was limited by the court, and he focused mostly on the EPA’s actions in Libby and Grace’s role in halting the organization’s cleanup efforts. He wasn’t permitted to talk about the possible health implications of asbestos, or bring up information such as data derived from soil samples.
Following Peronard, Melvin Parker testified as a witness. Parker said, “No one told us there were dangers” with the property they purchased in 1992. The defense voiced volleys of objections throughout his testimony, and argued that Parker tried to pretend he was unaware of contamination problems so he could collect money for clean up from Grace and the EPA.
Lerah Parker was called to the stand after her husband finished Wednesday morning, and her testimony was met with fewer objections. After learning of the asbestos contamination in 1999, she said she was informed by a friend that Grace knew about the problem when they bought the property. When she later asked Alan Stringer, the general manager of the Libby mine who sold her the land, if he knew about the health risks when he sold it to them, she said he just set down his coffee and left. Many photos of vermiculite on their property were also introduced as evidence, though others that showed children playing in the dirt-vermiculite blend drew objections and were not allowed.
Testimony from expert witness Whitehouse capped the week. He discussed the progression of asbestos-related disease in specific patients from Libby, and gave the jury a general overview of what asbestos fibers do to the lungs.
“In Libby we have the highest mesothelioma rate in the nation” due to asbestos, Whitehouse said. “I don’t think we’ll see the last of this prior to twenty, thirty years from now.” The defense countered by admitting documents into evidence that cited different medical opinions from other doctors that had examined some of the same patients.
Court will be in recess until 9 a.m. Monday. The court schedule calls for court to be in session four days a week for the next three weeks.
– Carmen George (posted 1:31 a.m.)
Posted: March 5th, 2009 under News.