Mining firm acquitted in asbestos case
MISSOULA, Mont. -
Jurors received the case Wednesday, nearly 11 weeks after hearing opening arguments.
An indictment unsealed four years ago charged that W.R. Grace and several of its executives knowingly endangered the lives of mine workers and other residents of Libby and ignored warnings by state agencies to clean up the mining operation.
The jury acquitted Henry Eschenbach, Jack Wolter, and Robert Bettacchi.
"I'm grateful and happy to go home," said Wolter, who is retired and lives in Palm Desert, Calif.
Attorneys for some Libby residents blame tremolite asbestos for about 2,000 cases of illness and about 225 deaths in and around the community.
Gayla Benefield of Libby, who suffers health effects from asbestos exposure and lost both parents to asbestos-related lung diseases, said she doesn't know what the next step will be.
"They have gotten away with murder. That's all I can say," she said.
Grace knew about the health hazards of asbestos, but covered it up "so they could continue making money as well as avoid liability," Assistant US Attorney Kris McLean said during Wednesday's closing arguments.