Week 6: Locke testimony ends in perjury allegation
Day in and day out, the court heard testimony from government witness and former Grace employee Robert Locke this week, only to see Locke accused of perjury on what was to be his last day under cross-examination. Court is now in recess for a full week as Judge Donald Molloy considers striking all or some of Locke’s testimony.
The alleged perjury pertained to a conversation Locke claimed he had with Grace executive Robert Bettachi, one of the five remaining defendants, about whether or not the company should continue trying to sell its properties in Libby. In Locke’s testimony, made Wednesday under direct examination by the prosecution, Locke claimed he told Bettachi that selling the real estate “was a real bad idea, we should just plant grass and keep people the hell out of it,” and that Bettachi replied by saying, “Buyer beware.”
Two of the eventual buyers were Mel and Lerah Parker, both of whom have since been diagnosed with asbestos-related disease. The court heard their testimony several weeks ago.
Locke’s account of his conversation with Bettachi apparently contradicted his testimony before a grand jury charged with investigating Grace in 2005. At that time, Locke stated under oath that he had never discussed the properties with Bettachi. There were no written records of the conversation.
Defense Attorney Thomas Frongillo made the perjury accusation on Thursday, two days after predicting that Locke would perjure himself on another matter, the secrecy of meetings related to a Grace product called Monokote. The Monokote testimony and related evidence was ultimately not allowed before the jury, but that didn’t stop the defense from working to destroy Locke’s credibility.
During a three-day cross examination, the defense repeatedly challenged the completeness, accuracy and veracity of Locke’s testimony, which at times proved spotty. After providing detailed recollections of meetings, tests and evidence from the 1970s for the prosecution, Locke’s memory appeared to be less than perfect when he dealt with questions from the defense.
During testimony Wednesday afternoon, Locke mischaracterized the nature of testimony he had made during a previous case about Dr. Julie Yang, another witness, prompting defense attorney David Bernick to call him out in one of a series of sarcastic, antagonistic exchanges between the two.
In a session early Thursday afternoon, Locke failed to answer direct questions from Bernick at least 10 times, prompting Molloy to ask Locke if he was paying attention to the questions at all. Later in the day, defense attorney Thomas Frongillo questioned Locke about his mental condition, as Locke has apparently been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder. Frongillo asked whether Locke’s medication was affecting his testimony, a question that drew gasps from the galley.
Later that afternoon, Frongillo dropped the hammer. He brought up Locke’s 2005 testimony and accused Locke of lying about the conversation with Bettachi, Frongillo’s client, “because you wanted to stick it to the guy who didn’t give you any money,” Frongillo said.
This referred to Locke’s long-standing civil litigation against Grace, which has been ongoing since 1998, and which has been the subject of much discussion in the court throughout the week. Locke has apparently tried to settle the case several times to no avail.
Earlier in the week, Locke testified that Grace executives quashed a proposed study of their workers’ health because they wouldn’t be allowed to edit it, that they worked to delay a NIOSH study of workers’ asbestos exposure at Libby, that they failed to tell their customers the whole truth about the health dangers inherent in their products, and that there was “no way [Grace] could comply” with new OSHA regulations in the 1970s, and that trying to do so would have put the company out of business.
All this testimony may now be struck from the record, and the jury may be instructed to disregard it. A decision from Molloy is expected when court reconvenes Wednesday, April 8, at 9 a.m.