Appeals panel grants former White Pass president a new trial

Posted: Tuesday, August 22, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- 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 allege that Taylor had a piece of broken pipeline that was responsible for 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 had not reached the Skagway River when it actually had.

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

U.S. District Court 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 his conviction, two of the three appeals judges concluded that 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 that Taylor once ordered him not to report or to minimize an earlier, unrelated, spill.

The appeals judges concluded that the old ''bad act'' happened a long time ago and was more prejudicial than useful to the jury.

The U.S. Attorney's office told the Anchorage Daily News they had not yet seen the decision and could not immediately comment.

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