The trial of the Ford Motor Co. on reckless homicide charges stemming from the alleged defect of one of its products went to a Pulaski County Circuit Court jury this afternoon.
The jury got the landmark case after three hours of final arguments and nearly an hour of instruction from the judge.
Trial Judge Harold Staffeldt told panel members that to return a guilty verdict they would have to determine that Ford as a corporation "recklessly failed to warn about or repair" the 1973 Pinto in which three young women burned to death after a rear end crash in August 1978 near Goshen, Ind. After deliberating for two hours, the jury recessed for the night.
If convicted, Ford faces a maximum fine of $30,000 -- $10,000 for each count of reckless homicide in the death of each person.
A guilty verdict could also lead to civil suits against Ford regarding the Pinto, and it could open the door for more criminal actions against manufacturers.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Michael Cosentino told the jury it had the opportunity to "plant seeds of change, needed seeds of corporate morality and responsbility to people."
The prosecutor argued that corporations, like individuals, have moral and legal responsibilities, and the jury could send the message to corporate boardrooms around the nation.
But defense attorney James Neal commended Ford for making the effort to compete against the influx of small foreign cars by designing and manufacturing the Pinto. He said the Pinto was built by decent, honest men who bought the subcompact for their families and "who believed the Pinto was and is a reasonably safe car."