Former White Pass exec wins new trial on oil spill coverup

Judges said past testimony should have been barred from trial

Posted: Tuesday, August 22, 2000

ANCHORAGE A federal appeals court says the former president of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad is entitled to a new trial on charges that he lied and covered up a 1994 oil spill near Skagway.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Paul Taylor's 1996 conviction on two felony counts of lying to government officials.

The charges alleged Taylor had a piece of broken pipeline that was the source of the spill altered to make a 15-inch crack look like a 2-inch hairline fracture. He also told the U.S. Coast Guard that oil from the spill did not reach the Skagway River even though it did, prosecutors said.

A jury acquitted him of seven other counts, including conspiracy and obstructing justice.

U.S. District Judge James Fitzgerald sentenced Taylor to nine months in prison and fined him $10,000. Fitzgerald allowed Taylor to remain free pending the outcome of his appeal.

In overturning the conviction, two of the three appeals judges concluded the trial judge should not have allowed testimony from Stan Selmer, a former pipeline operator who had worked under Taylor's supervision. Selmer told jurors Taylor once ordered him not to report or to minimize an earlier, unrelated, spill.

The appeals judges concluded that incident happened a long time ago and its introduction during the trial was more prejudicial than useful to the jury.

No date has been set for a new trial.

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