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Jury begins deliberations Thursday in Lac-Mégantic rail disaster trial

12 jurors to decide if 3 former railway workers are guilty of criminal negligence causing death

Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas

Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas has completed his instructions to the jury in the trial of three former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic railway employees indicted for their roles in the 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster. (Radio-Canada)

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After a marathon trial that began last September, a jury has now been asked to decide if three former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railway employees are guilty of criminal negligence causing the deaths of 47 people when a runaway train derailed and exploded in July 2013.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas told jurors Wednesday it will be up to them to decide how much they choose to believe or rely on the testimony of the Crown witnesses they've heard over the past three months.

Fourteen bilingual jurors were initially chosen and have been sitting throughout the proceedings in the Sherbrooke, Que., courthouse.

After Dumas gave the 10 men and four women final instructions on how they are to proceed during deliberations, two jurors were picked at random to sit out the final decision-making process.

Eight men and four women will begin deliberations Thursday morning.

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Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac-Megantic on July 6, 2013. Forty-seven people died in the ensuing explosions and fires. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

3 separate verdicts

Ex-MMA locomotive engineer Tom Harding, 56, rail traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and operations manager Jean Demaître, 53 are each indicted for their role in the 2013 rail disaster.

After giving precise instructions on what to consider in reaching a verdict on criminal negligence causing death, Dumas reminded jurors this is not a joint trial: they will have to analyze the evidence and determine the guilt or innocence of each of the three men, then arrive at three separate verdicts.

Dumas insisted the first and most important principle of law in every criminal case is the presumption of innocence.

He told jurors it's been up to the prosecution, through the evidence presented, to persuade them "beyond a reasonable doubt" if any of the three accused is guilty.

"You must consider the evidence and make your decision, without sympathy, prejudice or fear," Dumas instructed. he also told jurors they must also ignore the media and public opinion.

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Thomas Harding, the former locomotive engineer who left the train idling in Nantes, Que., before it ran down the track and derailed, is one of the three ex-MMA employees charged with criminal negligence causing death. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Dumas told jurors in the case of Harding, who drove the train on its final ill-fated journey, there are four possible verdicts:

  • They can find him guilty of criminal negligence causing death.
  • They can find him guilty of the lesser charge of dangerous driving of railway equipment causing death.
  • They can find him guilty of the lesser charge of dangerous operation of railway equipment.
  • They can find him not guilty.

After nine hours of instructions to the jury Wednesday, Dumas concluded with a few sombre words about the 47 people who died in the inferno caused by the derailment in Lac-Mégantic and their families.

"It may seem as though the trial didn't focus on the victims. That was done intentionally. I didn't allow any evidence that I felt could have hurt the victims any further," he explained.

"Throughout the trial, the victims have never been far from our thoughts."

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