Venue of Hazelwood Trial Expected to Change
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Exxon Valdez captain Joseph Hazelwood will be tried outside Valdez because of the publicity and local concern there over the nation’s worst oil spill, prosecutors and defense attorneys said.
A new location for the trial, set for January, has not yet been decided.
Hazelwood, 42, of Huntington, N.Y., faces three misdemeanor and three felony charges stemming from the March 24 accident.
The tanker was under Hazelwood’s command when it ran aground after he turned the controls over to the vessel’s third mate, Gregory Cousins. More than 11 million gallons of thick North Slope crude oil spilled into the sea.
Cousins was barred Thursday from serving as an officer on any ship for nine months after he pleaded no-contest at a hearing in Seattle to charges of negligence in monitoring the tanker’s position.
A Coast Guard report said that before leaving the bridge, Hazelwood talked with Cousins about when to return to the vessel traffic lanes, which the captain had left to avoid ice in Prince William Sound.
Cousins failed to return to the normal course for several minutes after passing Busby Light, where Hazelwood had instructed him to turn, the report said. It quoted Cousins as saying he ordered the appropriate change in course, but the ship failed to respond.
Defense lawyers Richard Friedman and Dick Madson have sought to move Hazelwood’s trial out of Valdez, and Assistant District Attorney Brent Cole said the state supports the move.
″Because of the large amount of pretrial publicity and the large economic impact on Valdez ... we just agreed in the interests of expeditious proceedings to not got through the hassle of trying to get a jury in Valdez,″ Cole said.
Cole said he has asked that the trial be held in Anchorage, but Friedman said he was unsure that would be a good choice. ″I think we’re moving in the right direction - away from Valdez,″ he said.
Anchorage Superior Judge Karl Johnstone was assigned to the case Tuesday after Palmer Superior Court Judge Beverly Cutler disqualified herself. Cutler said litigation handled by her father and her sister could create the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Johnstone, assigned by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Brian Shortell, is a commercial fisherman.
Friedman said Johnstone’s fishing was known when Shortell assigned him, and the defense team does not believe the activity poses a conflict. Fishermen were among those injured by the spill.
Johnstone said he will not make any decisions on the case until lawyers decide whether they want him to remain.