The Trial

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Last Updated on February 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1408

The courtroom is packed with over two hundred people who await the opening statements. The Woburn families are not in attendance, per Schlichtmann’s request. After Schlichtmann’s compelling opening statement, the courtroom is silent as they ponder the picture he has painted of Beatrice and Grace’s poisoning of Woburn.

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Next, Michael Keating gives an opening statement for W. R. Grace. He admits that Grace employees dumped TCE but promises that Grace will prove the families were not affected.

Lastly, Facher makes his statement for Beatrice Foods. He talks for an hour and a half, explaining how there is no proof that Beatrice used TCE; nor, he argues, is there proof linking TCE exposure to leukemia. He knows he is losing the court’s attention, but he doesn’t want to sit down. He wants to drag out phase one of the trial for as long as he can.

It is now Schlichtmann’s job to prove Beatrice and Grace contaminated the wells, to show that TCE and other chemicals seeped into the ground and migrated to the wells, and to clarify the timeline of these events. Schlichtmann starts his questioning with geologist John Drobinski, a Princeton professor and an expert on groundwater flow. Facher delays as much as he can by objecting at every turn, but his motions are unheeded. After three weeks in court, Drobinski gives his testimony.

Next, Schlichtmann calls to the stand a series of Woburn residents who were alive and in the area between 1950 and 1970. The witnesses testify to having seen debris and barrels on the tannery land.

During the fourth week of trial, it is John Riley’s turn to testify, and Schlichtmann hopes he can get him angry. In a calm manner, Riley denies dumping chemicals or harming the land. Schlichtmann shows Riley the document from the health department, but Riley denies ever meeting with the department or getting a warning.

Schlichtmann is mad that he can’t anger or scare Riley, but Riley begins to unravel when Facher cross-examines him. Keating decides to cross-examine him as well. Keating brings up how the land Riley owns is now conservation land that is deeded for the “use and enjoyment” of Woburn residents. He doesn’t push Riley too much on the topic, but the line of questioning shows clear irony regarding Riley and his toxic land. 

Schlichtmann runs out the clock by repeating questions about the land and the well. He then asks about the destroyed records from 1960 to 1970. This upsets Riley, who starts yelling about TCE. Schlichtmann ends his questioning on that note, but Nesson isn’t sure if the jury understands the implicitly guilty plea Riley has just made.

Six weeks in, Roland Gamache dies of cancer as Schlichtmann begins his case against W. R. Grace. Schlichtmann questions six workers, followed by Thomas Barbas. Barbas tries to conceal what he knows, but the record of his deposition speaks for itself. Schlichtmann is winning the Grace case, but his firm is completely out of money.

Schlichtmann’s firm has a concurrent case, a malpractice surgery on a woman named Helen O’Connell. They’re hoping to settle, which would free up some money for the firm to direct towards the Woburn case. Unfortunately, the insurance company on the defense knows they are going through a serious trial and makes a paltry offer. Schlichtmann rejects it.

The trial drags on into week eight, at which point Schlichtmann has one more witness to call: George F. Pinder, a Ph.D. whose expertise is in hydrology and groundwater movement. Pinder, whose reputation is stellar, comes to court with models and charts for the jury.

As Facher cross-examines Pinder, he points out inconsistencies in the data to get Pinder to slip up, but Pinder is able to compose himself and reply to each nuanced question. Still, the questioning isn’t going well. Pinder gathered his computer...

(The entire section contains 1408 words.)

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Facher's Plea


The Vigil