NEWS
01/10/2018 17:55 EST | Updated 01/12/2018 09:03 EST

Deliberate on 3 Lac-Megantic accused without regard to public opinion: judge

SHERBROOKE, Que. — The three accused in the Lac-Megantic railway disaster must be judged without sympathy or prejudice and without consideration of public opinion, Quebec Superior Court Justice Gaetan Dumas told jurors Wednesday in his final instructions.

Dumas began speaking to the jurors one day after defence lawyers for the accused wrapped up their closing arguments.

Jurors will be sequestered as of Thursday to deliberate the fate of the former railway employees.

"You must consider the evidence and make your decision without sympathy, prejudice or fear," Dumas told the jury. "You must not be influenced by public opinion."

Tom Harding, Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre are charged with criminal negligence in the disaster that killed 47 people in July 2013 when a runaway train carrying crude derailed in Lac-Megantic and exploded.

They have pleaded not guilty.

Harding was the train's engineer, Labrie the traffic controller and Demaitre the manager of train operations.

Dumas said the jury is charged with rendering three separate, unanimous verdicts based solely on evidence heard in the courtroom.

The trial judge added that neither the now-bankrupt company that owned the derailed train, Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, nor its administrators were on trial.

The trial involved only the three employees accused of being individually and independently criminally negligent from July 4 to 6, 2013, he said.

Dumas explained to jurors some elements of criminal law, such as the fact the three accused are not required to prove they are innocent. In fact, he said, they have nothing to prove.

It's up to the prosecution, he continued, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the behaviour of the three men — by their actions or omissions — constituted a marked and important departure from what a reasonable person would do under the same circumstances.

In order for the three men to be guilty, Dumas said, the accused must have omitted to do something they were required to do, thus showing a reckless disregard for the life of others.

The accused's behaviour must have also caused the death of 47 people, he said.

Harding, the Crown contends, failed to perform a proper brake test and didn't apply enough handbrakes after he parked the 73-wagon convoy on July 5, 2013.

Labrie and Demaitre are accused of failing to ask enough questions to ensure the train was properly secure after a fire broke out on the locomotive and firefighters shut off its engine, compromising the braking system.