Criminal Charges Dismissed Against Second W. R. Grace Defendant
MISSOULA, Mont. – On Thursday, April 30, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy dismissed all criminal charges against a second defendant in what has been called the corporate pollution trial of the century. The trial, which began in February of this year, started with a total of five defendants, all of whom are former executives of the Maryland-based chemical giant W. R. Grace Company. In a federal indictment that dates back to 2005, the five former executives were charged with conspiracy to violate the nation’s Clean Air Act by allegedly covering up the fact that Grace knew its vermiculite mining operation near Libby, Montana had been endangering the health of mine workers and Libby citizens by exposing them to asbestos that was contained in Grace’s vermiculite product.
Asbestos is a known cancer-causing agent that has been blamed in the death of over 225 Libby citizens while causing illness in more than 2,000 area residents (some of those who died or were sickened worked at Grace’s Zonolite Mountain mine, though, other victims of asbestos-caused disease did not). To date, government prosecutors have done a poor job of presenting its case against the former Grace executives, and on Thursday, Judge Molloy dismissed all charges against defendant William McCaig subsequent to a request to do so by Assistant U. S. Attorney Kris McLean. Earlier in the week, also at the request of prosecutor McLean, Molloy dismissed all charges against another defendant in the case, former Grace executive Robert Walsh.
Commenting on the dismissed charges against McCaig, Molloy said, “You can’t have a conspiracy to do something illegal, can you, if there is no law that makes your conduct illegal?” Molloy’s question to prosecutors was in reference to the fact that the Clean Air Act’s criminal statutes hadn’t been in effect until 1990, a full two years after former defendant McCaig’s employment at Grace had ended.
There are now only three defendants who remain on trial for allegedly conspiring to endanger the health of Libby’s citizens; prosecutors announced that they intend to call their final witness on Wednesday, and many believe the case will go to the jury by the end of next week. It is widely believed that sentiments against Grace run high in some members of the jury because of the extensive asbestos contamination that turned the entire Montana town into an EPA Superfund site – hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent trying to rid the community of asbestos, a thick coating of which had literally blanketed the entire town for years.
Asbestos occurs naturally and in abundance in the earth or in various types of rock formations. The silicate mineral exists in a wide variety of colors, types, and chemical compositions, but all forms of asbestos have a number of admirable qualities in common. Asbestos is practically fireproof, it resists mold and moisture damage, as well as damage from harsh chemical corrosives, it has excellent thermal and electrical insulating properties and more. Unfortunately, in the early 1970s, it had been medically confirmed that asbestos posed a serious risk to health. When fractured, asbestos can release microscopic fibers into the air, and when inhaled, these asbestos fibers can become permanently lodged in the lungs where, up to five decades later, they can cause deadly respiratory diseases such as the incurable lung cancer killer known as malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Yes. Libby area residents are angry about Grace’s wholesale
contamination of their tiny Montana town, but the case may never
go to the jury if defense attorneys for the three remaining defendants
have their way. Several defense motions for dismissal are now in
front of Judge Molloy who has made no secret of his disdain and
displeasure with the government’s trial tactics and ethics
to date. Molloy’s rulings on the motions to dismiss are expected
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