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Lac-Mégantic jury asks 3rd question as deliberations stretch on

On 9th day of deliberations, question comes after having declared an impasse earlier this week

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Thomas Harding, right, leaves the courtroom with his lawyer Tom Walsh, after the jury had a question as they enter their ninth day of deliberations in Sherbrooke, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

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The jury in the Lac-Mégantic trial of three men charged in connection with the 2013 rail disaster had another question Friday morning, as they embarked on their ninth day of deliberations. 

The jurors asked for clarification on determining how the actions and decisions made by the three accused differed from what another employee would have done in the situation. 

"The Mégantic tragedy is unique," the letter, sent at about 10:15 a.m., said. "Among the many instructions that you gave us to orient this triple trial, we'd like to have clarification on one of those."

Justice Gaétan Dumas told lawyers he would remind the jurors that the evidence must show "a marked and substantial departure of what a reasonable person would do."

Dumas said the jurors need to remember to look at the evidence before them and that the burden of proof rests on the Crown "and that it belongs to the Crown to show there was a marked departure."

"If there is a doubt … they have my instruction on what to do in that case."

The jurors are deciding the fate of Tom Harding, Richard Labrie and Jean Demaître. The three men are each charged with criminal negligence causing death, in the July 6, 2013, tragedy in which 47 people were killed when a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.

One of the Crown's responsibilities in the trial was to prove the actions and decisions made on the night of the tragedy were a marked difference from what a reasonable person would have done.

Deliberations continue

Tom Walsh, Harding's lawyer, said he's satisfied with the way Dumas answered the jury's question.

"I think there are a couple of things that are favourable to our thesis," he said.

"In particular the mention that they can use the standard in the [railway] industry prior to the tragedy as a way of measuring the conduct of the three accused people."

Walsh said it's important jurors not look back at the accident with the wisdom of hindsight, but consider what another person would have done under the same circumstances before the tragedy happened.

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Train driver Thomas Harding, left, leaves the courtroom during a break last fall. The jury in the case has so far been unable to reach a verdict. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"The Crown's expert witness [Stephen] Callaghan has stated quite clearly that leaving your air brakes on and relying upon them was generalized in the industry prior to the tragedy and it was a way of functioning," said Walsh.

Walsh said if the jury uses that as a benchmark, he believes "they will find that the conduct of Mr. Harding at least was not far from the norm."

The jury continues to deliberate.

Question is jury's third note to judge

The question is the jury's third time reaching out to the judge and lawyers. In the first, they asked if they could have a dictionary and for clarification on legal terms, including "reasonable doubt."

Their second note came Tuesday, their sixth day deliberating, saying they were at an impasse and asking what the procedure is if they were not able to come back with a verdict. 

Dumas urged them to return to deliberations, stating, "I have the authority to discharge you from giving a verdict where further deliberation is evidently useless in helping you reach a unanimous verdict.

"However, that right is not to be given lightly or at the first sign of difficulty."

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