The jury today will hear closing arguments in the Peanut Corporation of America criminal case in Albany, GA. One of the final acts in a drama six years in the making, the closings will get underway on the 32nd day of the twice-delayed trial that began July 28 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. The jury has already heard from about 45 witnesses over the 26 days that the prosecution took in putting on its case. The government began by calling one of the top officials of a private microbiological laboratory used by PCA and wrapped up with an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Prosecutors put on top witnesses they’d made deals with and who required multiple days on the witness stand and then called up others to give quick, cameo-like appearances. The government reached pre-trial plea bargains with two of PCA former top managers in Blakely, GA — plant manager Samuel Lightsey and operations manager Daniel Kilgore. The testimony of Lightsey and Kilgore spanned about 10 days. The two men helped the government put much of the complex criminal case before the jury. After the government wrapped up its presentations, attorneys for Stewart Parnell announced they would not be bringing in any witnesses of their own. Michael Parnell’s defense attorney, Athens, GA-based Edward Tolley, did call Parnell’s wife, Jean Parnell, as a character witness. Tolley also gave an opening defense statement that went about trying to separate his client from PCA’s business. Michael’s peanut brokerage, PP Sales, was entirely independent of PCA, according to Tolley. Michael Parnell was a buyer for Kellogg’s, never worked for or received a paycheck from PCA, and was solely responsible for financing the purchase and insurance for the big tanker trucks that were used to deliver peanut paste to Kellogg’s from the PCA plant in Blakely. Tolley said his client could not have been involved in conspiracy at PCA dating back to 2003 because his first deal with the company did not occur until July 2007. The defense attorney even took exception to classifying his client’s role as a peanut broker. He said that “buyer” is a more accurate term for what Michael Parnell did. He also said that Michael Parnell was one of those deceived by PCA. Albany, GA, defense attorney Thomas G. Ledford, representing Wilkerson, passed on the opportunity to either make an opening statement or call any witnesses. This minimalist approach taken by the defense is bringing the trial to a somewhat abrupt end. If closing arguments are completed today, that means federal Judge W. Louis Sands could give the jury instructions as early as Friday. A 76-count indictment in February 2013 against an original four defendants led to the current criminal trial. It might have been five, but before the indictment was unsealed, Kilgore reached a separate plea deal with the government. Last May, Lightsey did the same thing. The three others pleaded not guilty and were released on bond to assist in their own defenses. Lightsey’s deal reduced down to 71 the counts in the indictment to be decided by the jury, but with numerous counts charged to multiple defendants, the jury is going to have to decide on guilt or innocence on a total of 111 felonies charged. Individually, here’s the breakdown: Stewart Parnell is charged with two counts of conspiracy, 20 counts of introducing adulterated foods into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, 13 counts of introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, 20 counts of interstate shipments fraud, 11 counts of wire fraud, and two counts of obstruction of justice. Michael Parnell is charged with two counts of conspiracy, 12 counts of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, 12 counts of introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead, 12 counts of interstate shipments fraud, and five counts of wire fraud. Mary Wilkerson is charged with two counts of obstruction of justice. Daniel Kilgore’s plea deal limits his potential jail time to 12 years, and Samuel Lightsey negotiated a six-year maximum. Both men could serve much-reduced sentences for the job they did testifying for the government at the trial. The three who opted to go trial could, if convicted, face lengthy prison sentences and stiff fines. Each felony count of obstruction of justice can result in 10 years of imprisonment. Most of the felonies charged in this case also carry 5- or 10-year maximums for jail time. Today’s closing arguments come almost six years after an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium swept across the country from PCA peanut butter and products made with it. Nine deaths would eventually be blamed on the outbreak that multiplier models based on confirmed cases suggest sickened more than 22,0000 people in the U.S. and Canada. The outcome of this trial will determine whether the practices that led to those infections amounted to criminal activity.