- Jim Ferraro
The Defense Tries to Discredit the Case
The Defense was now about to present its case in the Castillo-DuPont trial.
Just as I had carefully, methodically, and thoughtfully laid out my case against the defendants, they, too, came in armed with heavy artillery.
As expected, their defense plan was to discredit every witness I put on the stand and to dismantle the science that proved Benlate caused Johnny’s birth defect.
This time, they took aim at Donna Castillo.
They tried to shoot holes in every aspect of her testimony about how she was sprayed by Pine Island’s machinery. The only issue in play with Donna, however, was her level of exposure. She was bulletproof on all the other elements of her claim. Our tactic was to use whatever evidence we could to support her testimony on this point. We had the weather records for that day, which showed it was hot and windy. The clothes Donna wore, which left the skin on her arms and legs bare, made sense for that kind of weather. And still the defense was determined to do whatever they could to prove otherwise.
They began by asserting that even if Donna had been exposed to Benlate by standing across the street from Pine Island Farms’ U-Pick fields that day, there was no real scientific evidence to support the idea that enough of the chemical had reached her to cause the birth defect in her son. Further, they alleged that there was no scientific evidence to back the contention that after their chemical lands on a person’s skin, it can seep through the dermis and into the bloodstream to affect a developing embryo or fetus.
The defendants brought in their own spray-drift expert, who showed various wind drift patterns from the two November days in question and how they might have affected Donna as she stood across the street from the farm.
Their expert used very impressive computer-generated charts with colorful graphs intimating that the tiny droplets were mostly capable of traveling only a couple of feet—with hardly any of them making it as far as the other side of the street. In this particular expert’s opinion, such data made it virtually impossible to believe that Donna could have been sprayed.
The expert shot himself in the foot with his fancy computer charts, however, because if one were to dig deeply enough into his models—which we did—one would easily see that the chemical, when carried by wind, breeze, or air, had the capacity to travel up to half a mile.
Naturally, we had the weather reports from the very hour Donna stated she was sprayed to prove our point.
And still the defense did its very best to sway the jury into believing Donna was lying—that she never got sprayed by the chemical. Since we had already established the wind and weather patterns earlier, this inconsistency in the expert witness’s testimony worked in our favor. I went after him in my cross-examination to point out the obvious.
“Just to be clear,” I said, “some of this drift will go up to half a mile away, is that correct?”
There was no way he could say no, because he had just spent his entire testimony showing the jury and court the colorful charts that also validated this fact.
“A half mile is far,” I said. “If Donna was one two-hundredth of a half mile away, you’re trying to tell this jury that she’s not going to get sprayed at any significant level?” I was doing my best to rattle the witness and get the admission I was hoping to hear.
“Uh, well, you see . . .” Their witness fumbled around for an answer that would substantiate his point of view, but the reality was, there wasn’t one.
I continued, “Tell me something: How can you be so sure she didn’t get sprayed?
Are you also a weatherman? A meteorologist?”
I taunted him with these types of questions because what he was asking the jury to believe was nothing more than voodoo science. It was bullshit. We unraveled his testimony and set the jury straight on this point.
In my next post, I write about other expert witnesses in the trial.
You’ll find much more about the Castillo-DuPont trial, as well as information on my background and my thoughts on aspects of the judicial process, in my book, Blindsided.