SHERBROOKE, Que. – Lawyers representing the three men charged with criminal negligence in the Lac-Megantic rail disaster that killed 47 people announced in court Tuesday they won’t call any witnesses.
As a consequence, the 14 jurors were released and are scheduled to return to court Jan. 3 for closing statements from the Crown followed by the final arguments from lawyers for the accused.
Tom Harding and former colleagues Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre are each facing one count of criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people.
They have all pleaded not guilty.
Thomas Walsh, a lawyer for train conductor Harding, said in an interview the defence teams decided to not call witnesses because they don’t believe the Crown met the burden of proof.
“(The Crown) had to establish beyond a reasonable doubt all the essential ingredients of the case,” Walsh said in a telephone interview from Sherbrooke, where the trial is being held.
“And the essential ingredients of this case involve a departure from a proven norm of conduct which is so great that it constitutes criminal negligence.”
On July 6, 2013, a runaway train carrying crude oil from the United States derailed in Lac-Megantic and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying part of the downtown core.
The Crown argued the locomotive weighing more than 10,000 tonnes was not properly secured, leaving it resting precariously on a slope, 10 kilometres away from downtown Lac-Megantic.
Crown prosecutor Veronique Beauchamp told the court at the beginning of the trial the three men were each criminally negligent in their own way for failing to ensure the train was safe.
Beauchamp did not want to comment on Tuesday’s developments.
“Given that the final arguments and directives (to the jury) have not taken place and that the jury is not yet sequestered, we cannot respond to your request out of respect for the court and the role of the jury in this case,” she said.
Walsh said the jurors were sent home before the holidays in order to “preserve the serenity of the deliberations.”
“We didn’t want to pick a timetable that would put them in a position where in order to get free by Christmas they were going to have to come up with a relatively hasty verdict,” he said.
The defence teams should complete their closing statements by Jan. 5, which would allow the jurors to begin deliberating after receiving instructions from the trial judge the following Monday, he added.
The disaster led to hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up and reconstruction costs as well as the bankruptcy of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, the company that owned and operated the tracks.