Defense Rests in W.R. Grace Asbestos Trial

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Defense lawyers for W.R. Grace & Co. and three former executives rested their case Tuesday.

The government’s lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean, said he intends to call one rebuttal witness, who is likely to be Paul Peronard, an emergency response coordinator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Missoulian newspaper reported on its Web site that Peronard was present in court Tuesday. He was among the first government officials to arrive in Libby in 1999 to begin investigating reports of widespread asbestos contamination from the vermiculite mine owned by Columbia, Md.-based Grace. The mine closed in 1990.

Lawyers for some Libby residents blame asbestos from the mine for sickening about 2,000 people in and around the community, and for the deaths of about 225.

The government alleges that and three former executives conspired to hide health risks posed by asbestos in vermiculite extracted at the Libby mine.

The presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, has dismissed charges against two of the five former Grace executives originally charged after the government said it lacked sufficient evidence to convict them.

Molloy previously ruled there were insufficient grounds to dismiss the trial due to prosecutorial misconduct. And with a motion to acquit pending, Molloy said he would reserve his ruling until after the jury reaches a verdict.

If Molloy decides to acquit, the prosecution could appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit.