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One Acquitted, Three Remain on Trial in Factory Death

May 15, 1985

MAYWOOD, Ill. (AP) _ The vice president and manager of a plant where a worker died of cyanide poisoning has been acquitted of charges of murdering the man, but three other officials of the plant remain on trial.

A Circuit Court judge on Tuesday ruled that the three other officials of Film Recovery Systems Inc. are to proceed with their defense in the nation’s first murder trial of businessmen for a workplace death.

Judge Ronald J.P. Banks acquitted Gerald Pett, saying prosecutors failed to present a convincing case against him.

The judge also dropped six of 21 reckless conduct charges against the other three men because some former employees failed to testify or file statements for the trial. The three defendants still on trial also are charged with murder.

″I feel very good about myself,″ Pett said. ″I will try to do anything I can to help the others. We were all in this together.″

Pett and the three others were charged in the cyanide-poisoning death of Stefan Golab, 61, a Polish immigrant worker.

Golab died after complaining of dizziness and nausea at the plant in Elk Grove Village, a Chicago suburb. An autopsy showed acute cyanide poisoning. Film Recovery used the chemical to recover silver from used X-ray film.

Prosecutors charged that the defendants murdered Golab in 1983 and damaged the health of 20 other workers by exposing them to dangerous levels of industrial cyanide.

Former workers had testified about the lack of safety equipment and frequent sickness by those working around the cyanide.

But defense attorneys argued that the defendants didn’t know conditions were bad enough to cause death or injury.

The prosecution rested its case Monday after four weeks of testimony from more than 40 witnesses in the non-jury trial.

″The elements of murder have to be proven, which I don’t think they’ve done,″ Pett’s attorney, Ronald Menaker, said prior to his client’s acquittal.

Assistant State’s Attorney Jay Magnuson disagreed, arguing, ″What can be worse than sending 30 to 40 workers into a company where there is cyanide around, and there are cyanide fumes which they must inhale? And then for them to be laughed at when they made a complaint?″

The trial resumes Monday with the defense beginning its case. About 50 witnesses were expected to be called, according to Menaker.

The remaining defendants are Charles Kirschbaum, who was plant manager of Film Recovery; Steven O’Neil, company president; and Daniel Rodriguez, a foreman.

If convicted, they would face minimum prison sentences of 20 years.

Another company official, Michael Mackay of Salt Lake City, also was charged but has successfully battled two extradition requests from Illinois. MacKay served as an unsalaried director of Film Recovery and his Utah-based B.R. MacKay & Sons company had financial ties to the plant.

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