Government attorneys want to block Stewart Parnell from using his potential Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis as a defense in the upcoming criminal trial over 76 federal felony charges.
K. Alan Dasher, assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, is asking for a “Daubert” hearing over the introduction at trial of a “neuropsychological evaluation” of Parnell by Joseph C. Conley, Jr., who holds a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi.
A “Daubert” hearing concerns federal court rules for the introduction of so-called “expert” testimony at trial. Parnell’s attorneys on Sept. 16 listed Conley as a “potential expert witness’’ for the criminal trial scheduled to begin in February 2014.
Defense attorneys E. Scott Austin and Thomas J. Bondurant said Conley “may testify regarding Mr. Parnell’s functional deficiencies, including ADHD, and their impact on his potential life and interplay with any criminal allegations.”
Dasher says it is “difficult to fathom that Defendant Stewart Parnell was so stricken and confused by this apparently never-before-diagnosed attention deficit disorder that he could not formulate the intent to defraud his customers.”
“The allegations contained in the indictment include outright lies and sophisticated schemes of deception,” the federal prosecutor says. “Intending no disrespect to those who do in fact suffer from this disorder, the condition is not a license to commit fraud.”
While not always taken seriously, ADHD is a genuine disorder. There is controversy in the scientific and medical communities over how it is diagnosed and treated. Symptoms include difficulty focusing and controlling behavior and a tendency to be overactive for one’s age and level of development.
Parnell is the former chief executive of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America. He and three other former PCA executives face a total of 76 federal criminal counts.
Among the felonies charged are conspiracy, introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, introduction of misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, interstate shipments fraud, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice.
The charges, to which the four defendants have pleaded not guilty, stem from the investigation into a deadly outbreak of Salmonella linked to the company’s peanut butter.
In his motion, Dasher says Conley should not testify as an expert, but if the court does decide to allow him to do so, then the government wants Parnell examined by its own expert.
“The government submits that Dr. Conley’s testimony would not help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue,” Dasher wrote. “To the contrary, his testimony would likely do no more than confuse the jury.”
Dasher also cited an appeals court decision that says psychiatric evidence should rarely be admissible in a criminal trial outside of an a formal insanity defense.
“When a defendant claims to have psychiatric evidence that he lacked the capacity or was incapable of forming the intent necessary for the crime charged, most often that defendant is speaking of an incapacity to reflect or control behaviors that produced the criminal conduct,” Dasher added. “In other words, evidence of a defendant’s mental state is not admissible simple to excuse the offense.”
The motion goes on to say there is no direct link between “the condition (ADHD) and the mens rea in dispute.” Its probative value is substantially outweighed by its capacity to mislead the jury, and “putting the defendant’s denial of willfulness in the mouth of someone other than himself.”
“Mens rea,” which is Latin for “guilty mind,” is a required element for many crimes.
Government attorneys have until Nov. 15 to respond to other pre-trial defense motions. Rather than a single jury trial for all four defendants, as now scheduled, Parnell has requested that his trial be separated from the others.
Mary Wilkerson, who is charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, has also made a series of motions regarding discovery issues. Her latest motion takes eight pages to request 11 specific categories of discovery that she is demanding.
Wilkerson is the former quality-assurance manager for PCA’s Blakely, GA, processing plant. The other two defendants are Samuel Lightsey, the former Blakely plant manager, and Michael Parnell, who is Stewart Parnell’s brother. He was a peanut broker and PCA’s vice president.
The jury trial, with U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands presiding, is set to get under way five years after a nationwide outbreak of deadly Salmonella Typhimurium was traced back to the PCA peanut-butter plants in Georgia and Texas.
The outbreak sickened 700 and killed nine people and ended with one of the largest ingredient recalls in U.S. history involving almost 4,000 products. PCA was headquartered in Lynchburg, VA.© Food Safety News