No conspiracy in Libby, despite hundreds of deaths


Maybe it's more incompetence by U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors -- kind of a holdover from the Bush era.

Maybe it's because a criminal conspiracy charge is always difficult to prove.

Or maybe it's a form of justice.

A jury in Missoula, Montana, just decided that the W.R. Grace corporation and some former Grace executives are not guilty of criminal conspiracy charges in connection with the deaths of hundreds of people -- and the illnesses of more -- in the small mining town of Libby.

The verdict shocked the surviving victims and kin of those who died from exposure to the corporation's asbestos mining. Gayla Benefield, who lost family and friends to lung disease and suffers effects herself, tells the Associated Press: "They have gotten away with murder. That's all I can say."

The Missoulian sums up the case and courtroom scene, and adds in a separate story: "Libby residents shellshocked by verdict."

The New York Times reports: "The verdict was a repudiation of the federal government’s case, which portrayed Grace as a greedy mine operator, aware of the dangers created by its mining operations and then callously, criminally covering up its crime."

The LA Times: "At least one juror was in tears as the verdict was read ..."

Judge Donald Molloy, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton and tends to rule for environmental claims, nevertheless slammed prosecutors during the trial -- as all the stories report, including an AP analysis headlined:"Prosecutors struggled in Grace trial."

And as usual, as I've often observed, environmental groups mostly continue to ignore this environmental crime because the victims are people, instead of ecosystems.


About Ray

Ray has been a Western journalist since 1979. He's now High Country News senior editor, based in Bozeman, Montana. He's earned national recognition including a George Polk Award for political reporting, a Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award for investigating oil-field accidents, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors scroll for going undercover as a prison inmate. He's had three novels published.