Lac-Megantic trial: Jury sent back to deliberate after reaching an impasse

The jury deliberating the fate of three men accused of criminal negligence causing death in the Lac-Megantic railway disaster told the judge they reached an impasse Tuesday afternoon.

Tom Harding, Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre, are all on trial in connection with the July 2013 deadly tragedy when a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Que, killing 47 people.

READ MORE: 12 jurors in Lac-Mégantic railway trial begin deliberations

The three men have pleaded not guilty.

The trial began Oct.2. in Sherbrooke, Que. Jury deliberations began Jan. 11.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Gaetan Dumas read a letter from the jurors Tuesday afternoon in which they asked him what happens if they can’t reach unanimity.  The judge sent the jury back to continue deliberations, offering the possibility of delivering verdicts on one or two of the accused, instead of all three.

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The 12 jurors has been deliberating for six days. On Monday, they asked the judge for a dictionary and for clarification on various judicial matters, such as the legal concept of “reasonable doubt.” They were not allowed to use one.

Conviction on a charge of criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

All three could have be found guilty of criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people, while jurors had the option of convicting Harding on one of two other charges: dangerous operation of railway equipment or dangerous operation of railway equipment causing death.

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

Harding and his legal team have admitted the engineer didn’t apply enough brakes to the 73-wagon train on July 5, 2013, before he left for the night.

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READ MORE: Lac-Mégantic jurors ask judge first questions on Day 5 of deliberations

What happened?

On July 5, 2013, Harding parked the 73-wagon convoy on a downward slope in the town of Nantes, just outside Lac-Megantic. He kept the locomotive running and relied on air brakes and independent brakes, securing the train before leaving for the night.

READ MORE: Audio recordings of Lac-Mégantic train engineer, dispatcher presented at trial

However, a fire broke out on the locomotive and the firefighters who extinguished the flames turned off the engine, compromising the braking system.

In the early hours of July 6, the oil-laden train began moving on its own, eventually derailing and exploding in Lac-Megantic.

*with files from the Canadian Press

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