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  • Jim Ferraro

Drawing the Truth from the ‘Lone Ranger’

As the Castillo trial drew closer, I became a man possessed. There was still so much work to do before going to court. I had expert witnesses I needed to depose, and I felt there weren’t enough hours in my day to get it all done before the start date in April.

In a way, I was grateful for the distraction of the case. It became oddly cathartic for me with Limogate and my separation (which by now had become my impending divorce). My failed marriage caused a lot of emotional grief for me. Having such a heavy workload provided something to focus on. If I immersed myself in the tasks at hand, I didn’t have to think about anything else.

After finding the rat studies, my colleague Marjorie and I knew we had to track down Robert Staples to take his deposition.

It took some time, but our private investigator ultimately located him. He was living in Delaware and was now retired.

As the author of the two studies, he had the potential to become a key witness for us. After all, he was the head of toxicology for DuPont during the period that these studies took place. He wrote the preliminary report in 1980 stating that the results were not good, which meant DuPont knew their product had issues.

Staples turned out to be a very approachable and kind man, although he wasn’t totally forthcoming about why the results in his studies were bad. He never gave me a really good explanation, other than to say, “We ran the study in 1982 and the results were better because the computer technology was better.” Given the differences in the studies, he knew it was a bullshit answer, and so did I.

During his deposition, however, Staples told me that when he met with the higher-ups at DuPont after his damning preliminary report on the 1980 study, they said to him, “Listen, we don’t want you to be a Lone Ranger. We want our input in the final report, not yours.”

When I asked why they were calling him a “lone ranger,” he explained that it was because he wrote the initial report without them.

I was baffled by his response, because as the head of toxicology, wasn’t it his job to report his findings? When I asked him this question, he said it was his job, and he found it odd that they would ask him to do anything other than speak the truth.

“The Lone Ranger always speaks the truth, right?” he said.

I had to agree.

While I was satisfied with what I got from his testimony, I wasn’t convinced that Staples would make a great witness on the stand. He wasn’t overwhelmingly convincing one way or the other, even if his studies leaned in our direction. What’s more, I didn’t feel that his personality was engaging enough for him to be an ally of ours. For whatever reason, he still appeared to have an allegiance to DuPont or, at the very least, to the studies conducted during his tenure there.

By the time I finished with his deposition, I felt I had enough evidence through his testimony, which I would read to the jury without ever putting Staples on the stand. Staples clearly helped our cause.

Every time we presented evidence to the judge that could be used as scientific backup, DuPont referred to it as “junk science.” It called everything junk science, and even tried to force us into finding and producing studies that didn’t or couldn’t realistically exist.

For example, DuPont wanted us to come up with a controlled epidemiological study, which would make perfect sense if we were testing a drug, because drugs, as I explained before, can be tested on pregnant women, whereas chemicals can’t.

To produce an epidemiological study, I would have had to find pregnant women who had been exposed to this chemical during the critical part of their pregnancies (the 7-to-10-week period) to prove that the same result occurred for them as occurred for my client.

A study like that would have cost tens of millions of dollars. How do you even perform that type of study? We would have had to find women who were unwillingly and randomly exposed, as Donna was. In fact, Donna was my study. And yet the lawyers for DuPont argued that since there were no good epidemiological studies, the evidence should not be allowed.

Well, they had a point.

There were no epidemiological studies.

The fact was, I didn’t need an epidemiological study to prove the science. Instead, I assembled a stellar team of 13 scientists to establish our case piece by piece, and I made sure the team included a fetal pathologist—someone who could speak to the jury about what happened to Johnny while he was in the womb.

Having a fetal pathologist testify was extremely important, because it would help the jury understand how the chemical generally got through the skin to the cells of the fetus. The easiest way to lose the case was to have one scientist act as a jack-of-all-trades. Each scientist had to cover a very defined aspect of the case based on both their specialized expertise and generally accepted science.

In my next post, I write about my quest to find a fetal pathologist who could speak to the issues of this case.

You can find many more details about the case and my background in my book, Blindsided, which inspired this series of blogs.


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