In a surprise move, the prosecution in the Ford Pinto trial rested its case today, ending a day and a half of frustration following a court ruling which sharply limited the scope of the rebuttal the state had planned.
Final arguments are slated to begin Monday morning, and it is expected the case will be turned over by noon to the seven-man, five-woman jury of rural Indianans.
Tomorrow the court will rule on motions raised by the Ford defense for a directed judgment of acquittal and to strike some testimony from the record.
Statistician Jack Moshman was to testify for the prosecution, to try to show that the Pinto was involved in twice as many "fire-in-vehicle" fatalities as any other car from 1975 through 1978. The prosecution intended to use Moshman to refute earlier statistics entered by the defense and to show that Ford officials relied on the wrong statistics in initially deciding not to recall Pintos.
Earlier Pulaski County Circuit Judge Harold Stoffeldt had ruled that Moshman was qualified as a rebuttal witness, but after the noon recess, prosecutor Michael Cosentina announced he was withdrawing Moshman and resting his case. In apparent wonderment, Ford chief counsel James Neal immediately asked for a recess, but quickly returned and also closed his case.
Consentino said after adjournment that he doubted the court would approve his last three rebuttal witnesses, and that he preferred not to close his case with statistical testimony.
"Statistics are complicated and incomplete. I thought it best to stop right now," the prosecutor said. Ford would have called more witnesses to address the subject and "made statistics a bigger issue than I believe it is." a
The state's rebuttal consisted of considerably limited testimony from a recall witness, the Indiana state trooper who investigated the triple-fatality Pinto accident in August 1978 that initiated the reckless homicide case in which Ford is charged with failing to warn about gas tank defects or offer to correct them.
The court's approval Tuesday of a motion by Neal to prevent the state from producing any evidence "held back" from its case-in-chief blocked the testimony of retired Ford engineer Frank Camps.
Camps, who designed and worked in the automaker's crash test program, testified outside the jury's presence that employes were told to "do whatever necessary" to test vehicles to enable them to pass certification tests.
The former Ford employe also noted that test workers were instructed to keep their communications oral. "We were told anything we put in writing would be subject to discovery by . . . attorneys," Camps said.