The last day of testimony in the W.R. Grace criminal trial began with the defense calling a former Libby city attorney and an ex-Grace accountant. Both were quickly questioned and dismissed.
But drama surfaced soon after Defense Attorney Thomas Frongillo began questioning Melvin Parker, the owner of the nursery he built on the site of the former Grace screening plant at the base of the road to the mine.
Frongillo, who represents former Grace Senior VP Robert Bettacchi, said his intent was to show that Parker “flat out lied” when he said he didn’t know that the mine was contaminated with asbestos that was harmful to humans.
This was a path that other lawyers had tried to go down with little or no success.
Frongillo, who served 10 years as a assistant United States attorney in the dog-eat-dog legal swamp of Boston, pressed Parker hard about when he learned about the asbestos.
The nurseryman said it was in the PI series on Libby in November 1999.
“Not so, Frongillo said, and he showed the jury 1993 report from Patrick Plantenberg, a Montana State official who worked on the mine reclamation. The lawyer also read a paragraph from a lengthy report that specifically outline the risks from asbestos.
Plantenberg said he had spoken to Parker in Sept. 1993 and sent him a copy.
Parker insisted he had never received the document.
Frongillo, who had kept his cool over the past 10 weeks was getting hot and Parker was unbending and loud in his denials. Sparks were flying.
The defense lawyer said he knows that Parker received it because he had plagiarized the language describing the asbestos danger and used it in a management plan he had submitted to Grace when Parker and his wife wanted to buy the old mine.
The words were almost identical but Parker vociferously and repeatedly denied that he lied.
Frongillo slowly shook his head and returned to his seat.