Judge Refuses to Drop Charges Against Hazelwood
Dec. 13, 1989
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Exxon Valdez skipper Joseph Hazelwood did not qualify for immunity from prosecution by reporting his ship's grounding and oil spill and must stand trial on criminal charges, a judge ruled.
Superior Judge Karl Johnstone said Tuesday that all evidence gathered in the investigation except for Hazelwood's report will be admissible at his trial for the March 24 grounding of the tanker and the spill of about 11 million gallons of crude oil.
Hazelwood is to go on trial Jan. 22 for his role in the nation's largest oil spill.
He is charged with three felony counts of criminal mischief, plus misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment, negligent discharge of oil and operating a vessel while intoxicated.
Johnstone rejected arguments by Hazelwood's attorneys that the seaman, fired by Exxon right after the disaster, was immune from prosecution because of laws protecting people who report spills.
The judge, who heard two weeks of testimony, determined that the Coast Guard's discovery of the spill would have been delayed only 17 minutes without Hazelwood's report. Johnstone based that conclusion on the testimony of a Coast Guard radar traffic monitor.
Even without Hazelwood's report, the Coast Guard would have conducted substantially the same investigation that ensued, Johnstone said. Investigators would have arrived at the tanker at about the same time, no matter what the source of the report, he said.
Johnstone's ruling appeared to be almost a total victory for prosecutors, who argued that the intent of the immunity provisions was not to protect spillers for incidents that would be discovered anyway.
Defense lawyer Richard Friedman said he already is working on an appeal of Johnstone's decision.
If convicted on all counts, Hazelwood faces a maximum sentence of 11 1/2 years in prison and $106,000 in fines. He is the only person the state has charged in the oil spill.