Jury hears manure case

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Marshall County jury, selected Monday, continued to hear evidence Tuesday in a state case against a Bedford County hog farmer accused of polluting several Marshall County residents' wells at Clay Hill near the Duck River Speedway.

Charlie Haskins, 63, of Haskins Chapel Road was arrested in August 2009. His indictment listed four counts of causing pollution, five vandalism counts and six reckless endangerment charges. Monday it was clear that the state isn't prosecuting environmental permit violations.

Without those charges that might better have been brought in Bedford Coun-ty Cir-cuit Court, Has-kins' attorney, Ray Fraley of Fayetteville, ripped into the case presented by Troy McPeak who's prosecuting for the Tennessee Depart-ment of Environment and Conservation.

The jury was sent out about the time Erin O'Brien of TDEC's Water Pollution Control Division started to testify about permits. Haskins allegedly continued to dispose of hog manure after his permit for a Confined Animal Feeding Operation expired. CAFOs include plans authorized by state environmentalists. But the pollution is in Marshal County and the farm is in Bedford County.

"You don't have proof that there was runoff" from the surface of the hog farm? Fraley asked and O'Brien said "No."

Judge Robert Crigler saw that as an issue on how a permit - or lack thereof - was relevant.

"I've got to decide whether the expired permit has anything to do with the charges," Crigler said.

McPeak explained the lack of a permit goes to the attitude Haskins took regarding the pollution.

"If you're not following the plan, you're risking pollution," McPeak said.

Crigler: "Since the (alleged) permit violation is no longer part of the trial, it's hard to rule that it can be mentioned."

Ultimately, Crigler cut a middle path, allowing some points such as farm records to be mentioned and others not. While a technical jurisdictional issue, it revealed the state acknowledged it filed some charges in the wrong county.

As for Haskins' attitude, two of the property owners whose wells went bad with some form of excrement - Greg and Cathy Dexter who own Duck River Lift Truck Inc. in Farmington - testified Monday afternoon.

Cathy Dexter spoke with Haskin a few days after her well water was unusable and, "He kind of laughed and said, 'Yeah, I had to go on vacation for a week," Cathy Dexter testified.

The Dexters paid Henry Horton State Park $6 every time they showered before installing a shower in their business at a cost of about $2,750, she said. Appliance replacement cost some $5,500.

"My well was contaminated and I think it's from Charlie's hogs," Greg Dexter said, summarizing his testimony.

In opening remarks, McPeak said the state will explain why DNA tests conducted on soiled water "doesn't rule out Charles Haskins" as responsible.

"You're dang right I'm going to make hay with the DNA," Fraley said at first in his opening remarks and then turning to Haskins' life story about: growing up on a farm; how hog manure is "a tremendous fertilizer;" that Haskins paid someone to do his paperwork; and that a state permit "has nothing to do with this case. It's a red herring."

With two alternates, seven men and seven women are in the jury box hearing the case that's been expected to continue today, longer than most trials here.

"It was scheduled for three (days) but we seated the jury by about 11 a.m.," Circuit Court Clerk Elinor Brandon Foster said.