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Wilkerson Files Key Motions in PCA Criminal Proceedings

In the weeks after the February grand jury indictment of four former Peanut Corporation of America executives, it seemed to be all about the former chief executive officer, Stewart Parnell.

Parnell wanted his U.S. Passport back so he could work outside the U.S., and he wanted an attorney who represented his daughter on his defense team even if it created a potential conflict for his attorney.

As the important pre-trial action continues, however, Parnell is taking a back seat to Mary Wilkerson, the former quality assurance manger for the PCA peanut processing plant in Blakely, GA.

While the four defendants together are charged with 76 federal felony counts, Wilkerson is charged with only two. Earlier this week, her attorneys filed both Brady and Jenck’s motions with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

In a Brady motion, a defendant is seeking a material witness who may have testimony favorable to the defense. It includes testimony that might impeach the credibility of a government witness.

In a Jenck’s motion, the government is required to provide a verbatim statement or report of a witness or prospective witness. It includes documents the government may rely upon at trial.

Through Albany, GA attorney Thomas G. Ledford, Wilkerson filed a 9-page, 26-section request for information. She wants to inspect and copy all written statements for which she is held accountable. She also wants to be able to inspect and copy numerous government documents.

Wilkerson also wants to know if electronic surveillance, including eavesdropping, interception of communications, wire tapping, listening devices and any other similar devices have been used by the government in the case.

She also wants to know how much was spent by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies on informants and witnesses. Among other requests, Wilkerson wants to know about what was seized from the defendants.

The four PCA executives are facing a federal criminal trial beginning in October. The trial stems from a federal investigation into a nationwide Salmonella outbreak.

In her Jenck’s motion filing, Wilkerson wants to know about any deals or considerations made by the government with any prosecution witnesses. She also wants any statements made by these witnesses.

Wilkerson’s Brady and Jenck’s motions show that the pace is picking up as the criminal case against the PCA executives comes closer to trial. The trial is likely to be one of the most closely watched events in recent history for the food safety community because it’s likely to show how far government prosecutors will go in these kinds of cases.

The trial of the four former executives is set for October in Albany, GA, not far from the PCA Blakely, GA peanut processing plant that was at the center of the 2008-09 Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak linked to the company’s contaminated peanut butter and peanut paste that killed nine and sickened more than 700 nationwide.

PCA’s retail customers were also affected, as almost 4,000 products using peanut butter and peanut paste had to be recalled in one of the most costly market withdrawals in U.S. history.

In addition to Wilkerson, the others charged are brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell along with former Blakely plant manager Samuel Lightsey. While Wilkerson faces just two counts of obstruction of justice, the total indictment is for 76 counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and introducing misbranded and adulterated food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud.

© Food Safety News