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Parnell-Wilkerson appeal sends feds scrambling for more time

turnbacktime_406x250While he is not conceding anything to the appellants, the attorney who’s been assigned to represent the government on the Peanut Corporation of America criminal appeals says he needs more time.

John-Alex Romano, the attorney from the Department of Justice’s appellate section for the criminal division, has asked for 60 additional days to prepare and file briefs answering the defendants in the consolidated appeals.

Appellant attorneys for defendants Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell and Mary Wilkerson are not opposing the government’s request for a new deadline of Feb.27, 2017. They came under investigation following the 2008-09 peanut butter Salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands and resulted in nine deaths.

Earlier government attorneys did not oppose defense motions for both more time and permission to file longer briefs than ordinarily permitted.

All three defendants are appealing their 2014 jury convictions. Stewart Parnell, the former owner and chief executive of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), was convicted of 67 federal felony counts. His brother, Michael Parnell, a peanut broker who did business with PCA, was convicted on 31 counts.

Wilkerson, PCA’s quality control manager at its problematic Blakely, GA, peanut processing plant, was convicted for the single felony of obstruction of justice.

“The record in this case is voluminous, spanning about 30 trial days, multiple pre- and post-trial hearings, and sentencing and restitution hearings,” the government’s request for more time says. “The joint appendix filed by Stewart and Michael itself consists of 32 volumes and almost 6,000 pages.”

Romano says the defendants raise “at least 10 claims in their opening briefs, including claims challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, alleging Brady violations and other instances of prosecutorial misconduct, challenging the admission of certain evidence and the exclusive of other evidence, alleging juror misconduct, and challenging various aspects of the defendants’ sentences.”

He contends the defendants’ coordinated approach with their briefs resulted in little overlap among them. “Given the number of claims raised by the defendants, the length of their briefs, and the size of the record, preparing the government’s answering brief will require considerable time and effort,” Romano wrote in his request to extend the deadline.

Romano was not involved in the case at the trial stage, but was brought on as the government’s lead attorney for the appeal. He says he is now working “almost exclusively” on the PCA criminal appeal.

PCA criminal appeals, however, are not Romano’s only responsibility. He also involved with the team prosecuting Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ. Since it was filed in 2015, that case has been involved in pre-trial appeals including one that may be heard next year by the Supreme Court.

All three PCA defendants are pursuing their appeals from federl jail cells. Stewart Parnell is serving a 28-year sentence at a federal prison in South Carolina, his brother Michael is doing 30 years at a federal lockup in Michigan, and Wilkerson is doing 5 years at a federal correctional facility in Florida.

The brothers were convicted on multiple counts in a fraud conspiracy involving the shipment of contaminated peanut butter that was ultimately used in a wide variety of products. Wilkerson was convicted of obstruction of justice for misleading an FDA investigator after the outbreak.

The three defendants all filed their opening briefs in the appeal between Nov. 23 and Nov. 25.

PCA, the Parnell brothers and Wilkerson came under investigation following the deadly 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak. During the jury trial, the court permitted testimony about the thousands of human illnesses in the Salmonella outbreak, but not the nine deaths.

Appellant filings in the case now list the names of the dead along with other “interested persons” who have an interest in the outcome of the case. The PCA dead are: Shirley Almer of Minnesota, Minnie C. Borden of Ohio and Illinois; Hester (Gloria) Fields of Tennessee; Bobby Ray Hullett of North Carolina; Alicia Florres-Miller of Alabama; Robert Otis Moss of Louisiana; Nellie Napier of North Carolina; Margie Parsons of Alabama; Betty Banks-Shelander of Georgia; and Clifford Tousignant of Minnesota.

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