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Peanut Corporation of America Trial Update

Albany, Georgia – As the third week winds to a close in the trial against three individuals who were targeted for prosecution in the first-ever case of salmonella contamination to go to trial, national and international news providers are weighing in with coverage.

The Guardian, a newspaper based in the United Kingdom, published an Associated Press wire report entitled Salmonella trial reveals US food safety relies on self-reporting. Much of the article focuses on the voluntary nature of food testing in the industry, which was previously noted in the opening arguments offered by Gentry Locke attorney Thomas J. Bondurant, who is representing former executive Stewart Parnell. Following are highlights from The Guardian’s article:

“There is no legal requirement for testing at all for salmonella,” Tom Bondurant, Stewart Parnell’s defence [sic] lawyer, told jurors during opening statements on 1 August. “There wasn’t then, and there’s not now.”

That is true and it could be a problem for prosecutors in the case, said Jaydee Hanson of the Centre for Food Safety.

[An] FDA investigator, Bob Neligan, testified that when he first arrived at the Georgia plant on 9 January 2009, he immediately asked for any information or records related to positive salmonella tests. Lightsey told inspectors that the plant’s only brush with salmonella had turned out to be a false-positive test, Neligan said, and Stewart Parnell offered no further information.

“Records are voluntary,” Neligan told the jury. “It has been my experience in my 25 years [with the FDA] that, when there is a concern regarding a nationwide food-borne illness, a firm is usually more than willing to hand over as many records as they can to resolve the issue quickly.”

ABC News published a story on the trial that included information provided in testimony from an FDA microbiologist, Darcy Brillhart, and Gentry Locke attorney E. Scott Austin’s cross-examination of the procedures involved in FDA inspections:

Brillhart testified about various precautions taken to make sure the samples aren’t contaminated or compromised, including wearing protective clothing, using sanitized gloves, keeping the samples at a specified temperature, and using specially treated swabs.

Scott Austin, a defense attorney for Stewart Parnell, grilled Brillhart, seeking to discredit him by questioning the fact that he didn’t wear shoe coverings during the plant inspection, kept samples overnight in a hotel fridge where he had no control over the temperature, and took few notes.

The trial shows every indication of continuing into its fourth week and beyond.

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Albany, Georgia, August 8, 2014 – Albany television station WALB-TV continues to cover the daily courtroom activities for the criminal trial against three individuals who were tied to the Peanut Corp. of America during a 2008 salmonella contamination. As a result of the outbreak, the corporation filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations in 2009.

Stewart Parnell, the company’s former president and CEO, is represented by Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore attorneys Thomas J. Bondurant, Jr., E. Scott Austin, and Justin M. Lugar, who focus on criminal and government investigations cases. Also being tried are Mr. Parnell’s brother, Michael Parnell, who owned a company that contracted to provide PCA products to Kellogg’s, and Mary Wilkerson, a PCA Quality Control Manager. Previously charged was the former processing plant manager for Peanut Corp., Samuel Lightsey, who reached a plea agreement on May 8, 2014 and is a witness for the prosecution.

Janet Gray is an FDA investigator who, according to the news report, was on the stand for a total of 13 hours.

In the August 7, 2014 case notes (at http://www.walb.com/story/26162591/live-salmonella-outbreak-trial-coverage-from-albany-ga), WALB News reported the following:

Stewart Parnell’s attorney made solid points. He showed emails that proved Gray added information, had interference from the office of criminal investigation, and initially said Sammy Lightsey was responsible for the shipments.

Other emails showed her saying that it “stinks” when the lab results came back negative for salmonella because she thought they would be positive. Bondurant says this is proof that it wasn’t an unbiased inspection.

Her bosses made her add Stewart Parnell as a responsible party. Bondurant showed emails that Gray confirmed. His last question regarded her adding information to her inspection for FDA and other departments “as long as they backed her up when bullets start flying.”

Bondurant then said no further questions.

 

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