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"Trial Blog" in ScienceNOW
Offers Details of Butler Trial
For the last three weeks, Science magazine's daily news website, ScienceNOW, has been covering the trial of Thomas Butler, a case that correspondent David Malakoff compared to the OJ Simpson trial, for the interest it has attracted.
Butler, a Texas Tech University researcher and an expert on the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis, is on trial in federal court in Lubbock. He faces 69 criminal charges, including illegally importing bacteria samples into the United States, lying to the FBI about 30 vials of plague that went missing from his laboratory, and mishandling grant funds. If convicted on all counts, he could be fined $17 million and sentenced to up to 469 years in prison.
Allies in the scientific community say that Butler is the victim of prosecutorial overkill. But the government is arguing that Butler broke rules designed to protect the nation against bioterrorism. Observers say the outcome could have a significant impact on life science researchers working with potentially dangerous agents.
In his 21 November account of the trial, ScienceNOW writer Martin Enserink reported on the beginning of the prosecution's cross-examination of the defendant. "With a combination of polite patience and icy sarcasm, prosecutor Robert Webster grilled Butler for almost 5 hours focusing on his financial dealings," Enserink wrote. "Butler, who had been confident and upbeat a day earlier when he talked about his plague study in Africa, at times appeared flustered by the hailstorm of questions, and he had trouble answering some of them."
For more information, read the free trial blog by ScienceNOW correspondents Enserink and Malakoff.
14 November 2003