The trials for former Peanut Corporation of America CEO Stewart Parnell and three others have been pushed back from February 2014 to sometime in July or August, according to court documents released Wednesday.
This is the second time the trial has been delayed, after first being pushed from October 2013 to February 2014, already more than five years after Salmonella-tainted peanut products began sickening Americans in December 2008, causing more than 700 illnesses, nine deaths, and the most extensive food recall in U.S. history.
Stewart Parnell, his brother Michael Parnell, and former PCA plant managers Samuel Lightsey and Mary Wilkerson, face a 76-count felony indictment for conspiracy, wire fraud and introducing misbranded and adulterated food into commerce with the intent to defraud.
The latest delay is reportedly because lawyers for Lightsey have another case going to trial in February, according to Jeff Almer, son of Shirley Almer, who died in the outbreak. Almer received a phone call from federal prosecutors when the trial had again been delayed.
“I wasn’t expecting that, since they had delayed it once already,” Almer said. “It’s hard for us who are waiting for justice and resolution to have to wait another five months.”
Almer noted that the five-year anniversary of his mother’s death is approaching on Dec. 21, 2013. Shirley Almer, 72, a two-time cancer survivor, fell ill with a Salmonella infection after eating peanut butter made from PCA peanuts.
Federal prosecutors and the defendants must both propose new trial dates by Jan. 15, 2014. Those proposed dates need to fall between July 7 and the end of August 2014.
The two sides must also set two dates for hearings – one to resolve trial motions and one happening sooner to hear arguments based on Parnell’s claim that his attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) absolves him of intent to commit the crimes for which he’s been charged.
The court has also agreed to review arguments for why Michael Parnell should be severed from the case. His lawyers argue that he was a contractor through his own business and could not therefore technically be charged with conspiracy.
The defendants were originally charged in February 2014, meaning the case is now scheduled to go to trial at least 17 months after the charges were filed.
For Almer, the trial couldn’t come soon enough.
“It’s something we’d all like to put behind us, good or bad,” he said.
In other rulings at the Dec. 6 pre-trial hearing, Judge W. Louis Sands said a “Daubert” hearing will be held before the trial starts to determine whether Stewart Parnell’s clinical psychologist should be allowed to testify as an expert. Dr. Joseph C. Conley, Jr., a clinical psychologist from Lynchburg, VA, says Parnell suffers from ADHD.
Sands has yet to decide whether Stewart Parnell must submit to an examination by a government psychologist. A discovery motion on behalf of defendant Wilkerson for so-called “Brady materials” also remains pending.
Finally, Michael Parnell’s motion to have his trial separated from the others will be considered after his counsel submits “affidavits and/or other supporting submissions to demonstrate why their defenses are antagonistic and mutually exclusive.” His submissions are not being made public and will be privately reviewed by the judge.© Food Safety News