The 31st — and last — Crown witness in the trial for the three men charged with criminal negligence causing death in connection the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster finished his testimony at the Sherbrooke courthouse Tuesday.
Randy Stahl, a former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) locomotive mechanic based in Derby, Maine stood in the witness box addressing Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas and the jury in a hushed, barely audible voice.
Stahl, the only American to testify in the trial so far, described his responsibilities as supervisor of the maintenance shop where the MMA locomotives used to be repaired and maintained before a 74-car fuel train derailed and exploded, setting downtown Lac-Mégantic ablaze in the early hours of July 6, 2013.
Standing trial in connection with that disaster are three former MMA employees: locomotive engineer Thomas Harding, 56, rail traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and operations manager Jean Demaître, 53. Each is on trial for criminal negligence causing 47 deaths.
Stahl told the court he trained the mechanics who repaired locomotives at the shop in Derby and worked alongside them.
He said his employees worked from 6:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., but he was available around the clock to speak with locomotive engineers on both sides of the border about mechanical issues and help them find solutions.
Maintenance shop closed July 4
Under cross-examination by Demaître's lawyer, Gaétan Bourassa, Stahl told the court the shop had been closed for Independence Day on July 4, two days before the rail disaster.
Earlier in the trial, former MMA locomotive engineer François Daigle testified he'd driven the ill-fated lead locomotive 5017 on July 4 — two days before it was involved in the derailment.
Daigle told the court he'd reported mechanical problems to Demaître, his boss, and sent a fax to the Derby maintenance shop to alert them to the issue.
Defence to decide if it will present a case
With the Crown's evidence now complete, it is now the turn of defence lawyers to present witnesses, beginning with Demaître's lawyer, Bourassa. However, Bourassa has asked Justice Dumas for a few days to reflect on whether his client wants to present a case.
"The Crown has burden of proof, not the defence," Dumas reminded the jury.
"Nor is the defence obliged to present a case," he said, adding, "it's a decision that each party must take in an enlightened way. There are three defences possible, and I want you to draw no inference on whether they decide to present a defence or not."
The jurors have been told to return to the Sherbrooke courthouse Monday, unless they receive a phone call beforehand telling them otherwise.
A previous version of this story reported the three defendants are charged with 47 counts each of criminal negligence causing death — one count for each person who died in the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. In fact, prior to the trial, the Crown simplified the charge to a single count each of criminal negligence causing 47 deaths. The change has no bearing on the criteria used by the jury to render its verdict or on the possible sentence.Jan 15, 2018 7:06 PM ET