Tonawanda News

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March 28, 2013

Jury begins Coke deliberation

BUFFALO — Attorneys working on the Tonawanda Coke case completed their closing arguments Wednesday afternoon, and now, the fate of the River Road company lies in the hands of the jury.

Before adjourning Wednesday, Judge William Skretny gave the jury lengthy instructions, including an explanation of the required elements for a guilty verdict in each of the 19 charges against the company and its environmental manager, as well as relevant legal definitions that have been discussed in the case. 

Those instructions came after Rodney Personius, an attorney representing Tonawnada Coke’s environmental manager Mark Kamholz, presented his closing argument.

Much of the evidence allegedly implicating Kamholz is based on a conversation he had with a plant employee, Pat Cahill, prior to an Environmental Protection Agency inspection that was completed in April 2009. 

During a walkthrough of the plant before the EPA arrived, Kamholz and Cahill allegedly had a brief discussion about the plant’s pressure relief valve, which the government has argued emitted coke oven gas quite frequently, and that the use of the emissions source violated the Clean Air Act. 

During Cahill’s testimony, he said Kamholz pointed to the valve during that walkthrough and said “we can’t have that going off when they’re here.”

Cahill said he then increased the pressure on the valve in an attempt to prevent it from releasing while EPA officials were on site, which, in the government’s view, was encouraged by Kamholz — and, among other evidence, constitutes the obstruction of justice charge. 

But during his closing arguments Wednesday, Personius argued the conversation between Cahill and Kamholz is insignificant to the case. 

“You cannot take (the statement) — whether it’s six words or nine words, and ignore everything that surrounds it,” Personius said. 

Personius noted that after the conversation, there wasn’t any additional correspondence between the pair about the valve. And after the valve did release during the EPA inspection, Kamholz never approached Cahill, Personius said. 

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