A 12-member jury and six alternates — 10 men and eight women in all — were selected Thursday in the criminal trial of three former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. Opening arguments will begin Friday from government prosecutors and defense attorneys for former peanut company owner Stewart Parnell, his peanut broker brother Michael Parnell, and quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson.

Stewart Parnell (right), former CEO of the Peanut Corporation of America, with defense attorney Ken Hodges. (Artist’s sketch by Richard Millet.)
A large pool of prospective jurors was summoned to the C.B. King U.S. Courthouse in Albany, GA, this past Monday because federal Judge W. Louis Sands rightly suspected that many of those called would have difficulty serving for the expected eight-week length of the felony trial. It took from Monday until mid-day on Thursday to select the 12 jurors and six alternates who will hear evidence in what lawyers for all parties involved agree is a “complex” criminal case. Much of the selection process took place behind closed doors where prospective jurors could be interviewed privately, meaning they all did a lot of waiting. In a 76-count indictment unsealed in February 2013, the three former executives were charged with felonies involving widespread fraud and conspiracy associated with shipments of misbranded and adulterated peanut butter. All the charges stem from an investigation into the 2008-09 nationwide Salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 700 people and resulted in nine deaths. The source of the outbreak was traced to PCA’s Blakely, GA, peanut processing plant. Jury selection was not the only action getting attention from the four sets of lawyers involved in the case. A new motion to “compel discovery” was filed with the court on Wednesday by Thomas J. Bondurant Jr. from Stewart Parnell’s defense team. Tardy discovery, meaning the late submission of documents by the government to the defense team, was already responsible for a two-week delay in the trial. In his latest motion, Bondurant claims that government attorneys are in violation of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure because they have not responded to “repeated requests for discovery” of materials related to 14 expert witnesses the prosecution plans to call to testify during the trial. Bondurant says the defense is entitled to “proper expert disclosure,” including a summary of the expert’s opinion, with “the bases and reasons for those opinions” and the witness’s qualifications. “For example, this should inform the requesting party whether the expert will be providing only background information on a particular issue or whether the witness will actually offer an opinion,” he writes in his motion. Bondurant cites precedents from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to buttress his argument. He says only an 85-page report from one FBI analyst has been provided to the defense so far concerning this particular list of prospective expert witnesses. It includes five computer discs containing underlying data. “The defendants will, by the lateness of the government’s production of these reports, need to review these reports and any related material while the trial is underway and while the defendants continue their review of voluminous documents only recently provided by the government containing so-called Jencks material,” he states. Bondurant says the defense team believes they should have the witness materials at least six days in advance of any expert testimony being offered. The prosecution, led by Alan Dasher, assistant U.S Attorney for the Middle District, had not responded to the defense motion by late Thursday. Sands has told the jury that the trial will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. The judge has also advised that motions or other issues to be decided without the jury present will be heard after 2 p.m. daily. (Editor’s note: Dallas Carter was the courtroom observer for Food Safety News and assisted in compiling this report.)