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Government Brings Out Everything It Has on Former PCA Executives

Sealed Records Involve Defendant Mary Wilkerson

The federal government has sealed some recent proceedings involving defendant Mary Wilkerson in the criminal case against four former Peanut Corporation of America executives.

The former quality control manger for the PCA peanut processing plant at Blakely, GA was charged with two felony counts of obstruction of justice, the smallest slice of the government’s 76-count federal felony indictment against all four defendants.  The other three are brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell and plant manager Samuel Lightsey.

The criminal case against the four is being heard in the federal trial court for the Middle District of Georgia, not far from the Blakely plant that in 2008-09 shipped peanut butter and peanut paste that was contaminated with Salmonella Typhimurium. The poisoned peanut butter killed nine people and sickened another 700 in a nationwide outbreak.

Judge W. Louis Sands scheduled a June 25 ex parte hearing with Wilkerson, her attorney, and government prosecutors, but that meeting was apparently cancelled. Still, sealed records now raise the question of whether Wilkerson might go from defendant to witness for the government before the trial begins.

Government and defense attorneys have also differed in their views on all the documents being produced as part of pre-trial discovery. Sands granted the government extra time to do its document dump of everything the enforcement agencies and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has on PCA.

The information amounts to 80 gigabytes, or 93,000 documents, including many that were seized by the FBI when it executed search warrants during the outbreak. Some were recovered using “forensic hard drives,” which mirror documents and emails found on confiscated devices.

While the government asked for more discovery time, it opposed giving the defendants the same break by extending their deadline for pre-trial motions by two weeks to July 29. Attorneys for Stewart Parnell, the former chief executive officer of the defunct peanut company, said they needed more time because the two-and-half to three million documents they’ve already received are in an unsearchable format.

The government said the defense should not need more time because except for 14 additional CDs provided on June 17, all the other documents were provided to the defendants when they were charged last February.

In other pre-trial action, defense attorneys notified the court that John James Farmer III, a former science official for U.S. Public Health, would be called as an expert witness. Also, attorneys for Parnell said PCA’s food safety manual and insurance policies would be introduced at trial.

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