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Carved in Stone

Twenty years after Jim Stone first blew the whistle on Rockwell International, he got his day in court -- the Supreme Court.

After less than an hour, the case was closed.

Three months later, on March 27, the Supreme Court handed down its decision -- and any hopes that there would one day be justice for Jim Stone crumbled like rotting pondcrete.

Scalia wrote the 6-2 decision in favor of Rockwell. "Stone did not know that the pondcrete failed; he predicted it," the court ruled. And that was not enough for an "original source."

But the legal cases connected with Rocky Flats have a half-life on their own. In February 2006, a class-action suit filed against Rockwell and Dow Chemical, a previous plant operator, on behalf of 12,000 property owners who'd owned land around Rocky Flats resulted in a record-breaking $554 million judgment. Although motions have stayed that judgment from being dispersed to the plaintiffs, U.S. District Judge John Kane is expected to rule on those soon.

And by April 20, the U.S. Attorney's Office must respond to an argument that the Rocky Flats grand jurors finally be allowed to tell their story in court. Back in 1996, attorney Jonathan Turley asked that the jurors be released from grand jury secrecy rules in order to talk about what had gone on behind closed doors; in February, he again argued their case before U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch.

The grand jury foreman, Wes McKinley, is not part of that action. He's now a state representative, and has twice pushed for legislation that would require that warning signs be posted outside the former nuclear weapons plant -- which was declared cleaned up last fall and is slated to become a 6,500-acre wildlife refuge. The DOE may turn over that land to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as early as this month, according to David Abelson, who heads the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council. Although the refuge will not be open to the public for at least five years, the signs are already in place. "We want to be sure that people understand what happened at Rocky Flats," Abelson says. "There's disagreement, but the big picture is shared." And it's not pretty.

Alley, who's stuck by Stone for twenty years, isn't about to give up now. The engineer's allegations about the missing plutonium were never adjudicated -- and they make for a strong case. "When Stone met with the government team, he told them where to look," Alley says. "They found 61 pounds of plutonium in the air ducts, enough to make several Hiroshima bombs." But while he contemplates dropping that legal bombshell, he's already taken his client's case to another court: the court of public opinion.

Three days after the Supreme Court's decision came down, Alley sent a letter to this state's senators on behalf of a "true hero in Colorado history," asking that Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard support a bipartisan resolution that Stone receive a just share of the government's recovery, a share the government itself had told the Supreme Court that Stone deserved. "Had Rockwell's crimes and practices gone unchecked, there is no telling what further injuries and harm would have befallen Colorado and the health of its citizens," he wrote. "Mr. Stone's career was ruined because of his reporting the crimes at Rocky Flats -- something he did as a patriot on behalf of the people of Colorado and the U.S. taxpayers. That he has not received a single penny for his trouble is an injustice, pure and simple. It cries out for redress."

It's a sin -- an original sin.

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