Drs. Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice of C&EN
have posted their summary of Day 5
of the preliminary hearing of Professor Patrick Harran on charges stemming from the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji in January 2009. It should be noted that a preliminary hearing is a determination of the quality of the prosecution's evidence in the case. Day 6 happened yesterday; a link to C&EN's write-up will be posted when it is up.
Biggest news first: preliminary hearings are done, and and a hearing before Judge Lisa Lench on whether or not a trial will proceed will be argued on February 15, 2013.
The defense has raised two basic objections in Day 5 of the testimony, which focused on Cal/OSHA investigator Brian Baudendistel and his cross-examination by Thomas O'Brien, the lead counsel for the Harran defense team:
- Ms. Sangji was an experienced chemist, and therefore knowledgeable enough to make chemical safety PPE choices on her own
- Professor Harran was not fully informed of his responsibilities/liability as an employer with respect to chemical safety.
It seems to me that the latter is less objectionable than the former, which to be blunt, I find to be a pernicious myth. Now, of course, all the legal relationships between institution, PI, student and technician/employee are going to be formalized and codified. Where Professor Harran is in this previously gray area is basically the crux of any criminal penalty going forward.
In other news, the Los Angeles Times
has indicated that the Baudendistel gambit
by the Harran defense to remove his testimony does not seem to have worked for now. Jyllian Kemsley also thinks that it's been tabled.
Finally, I should also point out the rather cynical ploy by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block in the AP wire report (assuming, of course, that the reporter got it right):
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block issued a statement praising Harran as a valued member of UCLA's faculty who is making great strides in the global effort to cure cancer.
It's funny how there are positive and negative ways to cast the nature of the research Ms. Sangji was doing at Professor Harran's direction. Sometimes, her research is referred to as work on a "diet drug"
, but at other times, Professor Harran is a cancer researcher. The answer is that Professor Harran was working on both anti-obesity and anti-cancer compounds; the ultimate goal of his (worthy, good) research is irrelevant to these legal proceedings. Assuming again that he was quoted correctly, Chancellor Block should ashamed at this blatant attempt to pee in the jury pool.
There's a lot more detail in Jyllian and Michael's post, so you should definitely go over there
and read it.