Judge Allows Testimony Defense Deems Prejudicial

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Jurors in the W.R. Grace & Co. criminal trial heard testimony from a former Libby resident Friday, despite objections from defense attorneys who said the testimony would be redundant and prejudicial.

Witness Lerah Castleton is the daughter of key government witnesses Lerah and Mel Parker.

As reported by the Missoulian newspaper on its Web site Friday, Castleton testified that she lived and worked on an old tract of contaminated mining property in Libby, and regularly played with her own daughter on the vermiculite-strewn grounds.

“This is the orchard and what we’re looking at is the vermiculite that you would see on the property,” Castleton said, describing a photograph that federal prosecutors introduced as evidence.

Castleton said her 7-year-old daughter drove a pink toy car across the property, stirring up dust and fibers; and even handled pieces of vermiculite, which Grace mined for years at nearby Zonolite Mountain.

“We would sit on the ground. We would pick four leaf clovers. We would pick flowers. We would run around the property. We were very active,” Castleton said. “We would pick (vermiculite) up and throw it against the wall and play with it.”

The parents previously testified they bought the land from Columbia, Md.-based Grace, converted it into a tree nursery and mushroom farm and hired Castleton to work there.

The Parkers have since developed lung disease from living in the dusty conditions and breathing the harmful asbestos fibers.

Before Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean called Castleton to the stand, defense lawyers argued that her testimony would be irrelevant, duplicative and a waste of time.

In a defense motion filed Friday, attorney Thomas Frongillo said federal prosecutors were attempting to rehash the Parkers’ emotional testimony to bias jurors because the merits of their case were collapsing.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ultimately allowed Castleton to take the stand, but restricted the scope of her testimony, telling prosecutors not to “plow all the ground that’s been plowed.”

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