Stewart and Michael Parnell, the brothers who five years ago were running Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) when it was involved with one of the nation’s deadliest foodborne disease outbreaks, are going to be tried together. U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands has denied a motion the brothers made last summer to have their trials severed because they claimed they have “antagonistic and mutually exclusive defenses in this case.” The Parnell brothers and two other managers of the now defunct PCA face a total of 76 federal felony charges stemming from the sale of salmonella-contaminated peanuts. Federal rules of criminal procedure call for persons jointly indicted to be tried together unless a single trial interferes with fair trial. In his motion denying their request to sever the trials, Sands points out that among the charges, the brothers are accused of “conspiracy to falsify Certificates of Analysis, which certify peanuts for the absence of harmful microbiological content.” Stewart Parnell was the owner and chief executive of the now defunct peanut company. Michael Parnell was the company’s vice president and food broker, and was responsible for arranging shipments between PCA and its customers. Sands also noted the defendants did not describe their defenses in their request to have the trials severed, but instead requested an in camera ex parte hearing to provide supporting facts. The Court granted the request from the bench last Dec. 6 and ordered any documents to be filed under seal. Sands followed up with a written order on Dec. 11. In a Jan. 15 letter to Sands, Stewart Parnell’s defense counsel said “this defendant does not have any such documents to file.” “To date, the defendants have not specified the grounds for their June 29 motion,” Sands wrote. In December, attorneys for Michael Parnell argued he was not a PCA employee and was associated with only one customer. The peanut broker claims not be be part of “a common conspiracy” and “argues he will suffer a prejudicial spill-over effect if tried with the PCA employees.” In the denial motion, Sands discusses the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that are “construed in favor” of joint trials for defendants who are indicted together. The judge says the district court has to balance the right to a fair trial against the efficient and economic administration of justice. For trials to be severed, defendants must show a joint trial would result in “specific and compelling prejudice.” Sand said Michael Parnell’s argument that he did not participate in a common conspiracy “lacks merit.” “The indictment alleges Michael Parnell conspired with other codefendants to defraud PCA’s customers about the content of peanut shipments and the performance of certificates of analysis,” Sands says, “It lists specific acts he committed to further that goal, such as e-mailing other coconspirators about falsifying certificates and causing to be shipped specific batches of misbranded and mislabeled peanuts.” “In total,” the judge continued. “Michael Parnell is charged in forty-one counts and is specifically named in eleven of the Overt Acts comprising the conspiracy in Count Two. All of these allegations and charges are tied in scope and scheme. That’s sufficient for initial joinder, both as to defendants and counts.” Sands says a defendant “need not know all of the details of a conspiracy or participate in every stage to be found guilty.” All that is required is that the defendant “knew the essential objectives of the conspiracy and willfully join in it.” Arguments about “mutually exclusive defenses” and “the spill over effect” did not move Sands. “Neither ground is availing,” he said. Sands said the defendants needed to do more than make summary allegations and by not taking advantage of the court’s invitation to provide information on their “mutually exclusive defenses” under seal, no factual basis exists to address the joint motion. Government had opposed separate trials for the Parnell brothers. “Defendants’ motion is wholly lacking of any explanation whatsoever as to the nature of their defenses, how those defenses are inconsistent, and how they are mutually exclusive,” K. Alan Dasher, assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia said last August. “The motion (requiring separate trials) provides simply a conclusion with no factual basis.” The brothers were indicted in February 2013 along with two other former PCA managers, Samuel Lightsey and Mary Wilkerson. Their joint jury trial is now scheduled to begin July 14 before Sands in the federal courthouse in Albany, GA. Officially designated as a “complex” federal criminal case involving fraud and conspiracy, the 76-count indictment stems from a four year investigation by the FBI that followed the 2008-09 Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak. The nationwide outbreak led to nine deaths and sickened 700 others throughout the U.S. and those illnesses were traced back to peanut butter and peanut paste produced by PCA, mostly at its processing plant located in Blakely, GA, about one hour from Albany. PCA also processed peanuts in Virginia and Texas. The outbreak also led to the largest and most expensive ingredient recall in U.S. history involving nearly 4,000 products from hundreds of companies that were supplied with peanut butters and paste by PCA.