Posts Tagged ‘Crime Victims Rights Act’

Grace criminal trial begins with Libby victim outrage

19 Feb 2009 by under Events, Legal, News, Twitter

Jury selection is beginning today in Missoula, Montana, for the criminal case against W.R. Grace & Co. The company is charged with knowingly exposing workers at its , Montana, based mine, and residents of the town of , to hazardous . The is found in vermiculite, which was mined in Libby for many years. Hundreds of people in Libby have died as a result of -related diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma, and hundreds more are still suffering.

Local media is covering the W.R. Grace trial extensively, and has created an EXCELLENT web site with tons of resources about the case, as well as about the town of Libby, asbestos and vermiculite, the victims, the company, cleanup efforts and more. There are videos available as well. Visit the web site here:

The trial is being held in U.S. District Court in Missoula. A federal grand jury charged W.R. Grace & Co. in February 2005, along with seven of the company’s executives and managers. In June 2008 a Supreme Court decision upheld the grand jury’s findings so a court date could be set.

I recently spoke with Mike Crill, and posted a poem on this site that he wrote in memory of his father-in-law, who worked in the Grace mines and died of asbestosis. Mike suffers from asbestosis as well, and he is an active and outspoken advocate on behalf of the town of Libby and its residents. He believes that despite an EPA cleanup, the town is still dangerous because of the lingering threat of asbestos exposure.

When I spoke to Mike in January, he was optimistic, hoping a new President and administration would bring a fresh look at Libby, and hopeful the criminal trial would bring justice to its people.

“I’m hoping 2009 will be the beginning of the end of all that’s been allowed to happen for so long, and I hope these people will be held accountable,” he said. “This is murder, to me, because they could have stopped it and they should have.”

Yesterday, Mike emailed me several times, upset by a ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy, who in an order last week said that there are “no crime victims identifiable” in the Grace case, essentially barring Libby residents who are sick from asbestos exposure and serving as victim witnesses to attend the trial.

According to a news story written by Tristan Scott and published by the Missoulian, “Molloy drew his legal conclusion from an oft-evoked federal rule of evidence that prohibits witnesses from observing trial proceedings until their own testimony is complete.” The judge’s decision is based on a witness-sequestration rule, but it is usually not applied to witnesses who are the victims of alleged crimes.

The ruling excludes 34 witnesses from Libby that prosecutors had intended to call from attending the trial in full. Judge Molloy’s order says witnesses in the Grace case are not protected under the Crime Victims Rights Act, which guarantees victims of an alleged crime to the right to participate in and observe the criminal justice process.

Basically, the judge is saying that these witnesses do not qualify as “crime victims,” and therefore are not immune from the witness-sequestration rule.

Mike was livid.

“Can you believe this??? I…am not a victim???” he emailed me from Missioula, where he is picketing at the courthouse. “I can’t participate in something that belongs to me and all my loved ones who suffered and died waiting for this, their day of justice?”