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There were no windows in the corridor. The lighting fixtures were old fluorescent models, recessed into the ceiling, and they cast a feeble light, like dusk on an overcast day. The corridor smelled of floor polish and disinfectant and stale cigarette smoke.
They conducted their deliberations in a small room at the end of the corridor, up a narrow flight of stairs, a room that Schlichtmann had never seen.
Some mornings two or three of the jurors arrived together, talking among themselves as they got off the elevator. They always fell silent as they neared Schlichtmann.
They might smile, a tight, thin, constrained smile, or nod briskly to him. Schlichtmann looked studiously down at the floor as they walked past him, but from the corners of his eyes he watched every step they took.
He studied their demeanor and their dress and tried to guess their moods. In a moment, Schlichtmann was alone again. Woburn Summer 1 When the Reverend Mr. Bruce Young arrived at Woburn Trinity Episcopal Church in the summer of , he was twenty-eight years old and ambitious.
Trinity was his first church. It was a plain but sturdy-looking building, with a steeply peaked roof, a white clapboard exterior, and three small stained-glass windows along each side. The new minister could see that the church had fallen on hard times.
Weeds had invaded the lawn, which was brown and scabrous in spots, with patches of bare earth showing through. The bushes needed trimming, the shingles on the roof had curled, and the Gothic-style front doors needed paint. Even in the best of times, the church, which was built in , had never been prosperous.
By the time Bruce Young arrived, only about fifty parishioners, most of them nearly old enough to remember when the church was new, still attended the Sunday service. Young often remarked that Trinity was the only Episcopal church on the planet without a lawyer or a doctor in its congregation.
Young and his wife, who had a degree in social work, agreed that Woburn was a good place to begin a career but not a place they intended to stay for long. Woburn, a city of thirty-six thousand situated twelve miles north of Boston, needed paint, too.
A few blocks south of Trinity Episcopal, past a Sunoco station, an Army-Navy recruiting center, and several pizzerias, lay the town square. It was a small island, surrounded by city traffic, dominated by a towering bronze statue of a Civil War veteran. The weeds competed for space, and each year by midsummer the weeds had gained a clear advantage. Many of the storefronts were dusty, their windows streaked with dirt, the doorways filled with small piles of windblown debris. Back then the land was densely wooded, hilly in the west and north, flatter in the east where the Aberjona River flowed through marsh and bog.
That season the Wyman leathers spoiled in the tanning fats. Another tanner named Gershom Flagg cleared an acre of forest near the Town Meeting House and built his dwelling and tannery.
By the Civil War, Woburn had twenty tanneries, matching Philadelphia in the production of leather. The city acquired the nickname Tan City. The leather trade supported other industries. But the tanning industry began to wane after World War II. By the late s it had been eclipsed by competition from abroad. A decade later, only the J.
Riley Tannery in east Woburn, near the Aberjona River, still produced leather. Riley inscribed vertically on it, could be seen from the town square, almost a mile distant. To attract new businesses the city cleared and developed many acres of land in northeastern Woburn for industrial parks. Scandal arose when several city officials were discovered to have an undisclosed financial interest in the land, but development proceeded nonetheless.
Up on Commerce Way, near Interstate 93, several small manufacturing and trucking firms moved in. Grace, another chemical giant, built a small plant on land that had once been an orchard.
Bruce Young had planned to stay in Woburn for only about five years.
After a few years Young had made some inquiries about moving on. His Woburn parishioners liked him, but even the fondest had to admit that he was not a stirring public speaker. He read rather than declaimed his Sunday sermons, and his voice tended to trail on in a monotone. To his credit, he recognized this shortcoming and kept his sermons brief. He was always available for counseling, and his advice was usually sound.
He had a manner that made him seem truly interested in the problems people brought to him. He had a particular talent for ministering to the sick and infirm, and beginning in January , his sixth year at Trinity Episcopal, the sick became the heart and soul of his ministry. He taught at Harvard Law School for twenty years in trial practice.
Riley, the tannery manager. Jacobs went around the tannery where Riley denied that he ever dumped anything on the land. Beatrice Foods answer to the complaint contained denials of all the allegations. Cheeseman had previously represented Grace on another environmental case but no one has died before. It was therefore up to Cheeseman to do everything he could to stop this case from prospering.
Records showed that TCE was used by Grace with a download of only one gallon drum. Cheeseman was therefore convinced that this amount could not have contaminated the wells, and he accordingly sent Schlichtmann a letter advising him to withdraw the case. In a suit for environmental contamination or med malpractice or products liability the expenses for experts can rapidly reach astronomical proportions.
The experts are so important to proving that the act contamination actually caused the leukemia or damage or injuries. The experts must be hired early just to get past motions to throw the case out of court. As a consequence of these high costs, relatively few law firms handle these cases.
Small law firms cannot afford to front the expenses and then possibly be left holding the bag if the case tanks before they can even get to a jury. It works as a natural filter in many respects though. If these few dozen law firms all take a pass, it's likely the case would be thrown out for one reason or another or the case is just not worth all the expenses in terms of a potential recovery. Conversely, if one of these firms does take your case, chances are decent that some money will be paid by the defendants--after years of litigation.
Of those, the results are often tragic.