This past Thursday, a juror in the criminal trial of three former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives became ill about two hours into the court session. Judge W. Louis Sands opted to send the entire jury home and adjourned the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Georgia early for the day. Even with six alternates backing up his 12-member jury for this trial, Sands clearly does not want to start losing jurors to illness. The C.B. King U.S. Courthouse in Albany, GA, is an architecturally impressive building. But the third-floor courtroom where Sands is presiding over the trial — now entering its seventh week — can get a little stuffy. Others have said the HVAC system does not keep up when there is a full house, so it’s easy to see how jurors might start feeling queasy. But Sands wants those 10 men and eight women who serve on the jury to buck up. Their real work is still to come in the very near future. Attorneys for one of the three defendants just dropped 44 pages of suggested jury instructions. The government is still putting on its case and the defense has not gotten started, but it’s common practice to have all the parties offer jury instructions, just as they did with questions for prospective jurors during the voir dire process. While dismissing early Thursday, Sands kept the lawyers around after the jury was dismissed two days earlier for a “Daubert” hearing for Dr. Ian Williams, who heads up the foodborne outbreak unit at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. It was a drill the court had to indulge because the government was late in naming Williams as a expert witness, and the defense team for former PCA chief executive Stewart Parnell was quick to challenge them on it. Defense attorneys pretty much gave up on claiming that a top CDC official does not qualify as an expert witness in the field, but they did zero in on a couple of issues they could seriously raise. On Friday, Sands officially denied the defense motion to exclude Williams’ expert testimony, so he’ll likely take the stand in the coming week. When he does, the jury will learn how CDC found that PCA was the source of the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak and how the agency figured with a multiplier that 714 confirmed illnesses really means that the number sickened in the outbreak was really closer to 21,420. CDC’s Outbreak Response Branch began an investigation in November 2008 into the Salmonella illnesses of 166 people who were hospitalized around the nation. “Dr. Williams’ team found that two similar types of Salmonella Typhimurium had infected the salmonella patients and therefore concluded that the salmonella was likely from the same or related source,” states the judge’s order allowing the testimony. “At that time, Dr. Williams’ team was tasked with identifying the source of the salmonella outbreak.” Before the jury, Williams will likely say that the investigation into the source was based on “three major pillars of evidence.” These three types of evidence are epidemiological, trace-back, and Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) tests of food from the homes of the patients. “Based on the evidence collected, Dr. Williams’ team concluded that peanut butter and peanut products were the likely source of the outbreak,” Sands writes. “In each of the facilities affected by salmonella, King Nut peanut butter was found. King Nut peanut butter was traced back to the PCA facility in Blakely, Georgia. Samples taken by FDA inspectors from PCA facilities were compared to samples taken from suspected food items and infected individuals. Dr. Williams’ team found that the PFGE patterns from those samples matched. For those reasons, Dr. Williams concluded that PCA was the source of the outbreak.” Sands also notes that Williams and his CDC team published their findings in the Journal of Internal Medicine and that, after PCA products were successfully recalled from the market, the number of Salmonella cases from those T. strains returned to near zero. At the Daubert hearing, defense attorneys were willing to accept Williams as an expert witness and that PFGE is an accepted scientific method, but they raised two issues. They said his testimony would be prejudicial based on the “Confrontation Clause” and that Williams did not design the multiplier for the outbreak and whoever did could not be cross-examined. (It was reported that, for every confirmed case, it was likely that an additional 30 went unreported.) Sands has allowed evidence about the Salmonella illnesses, finding it “relevant and not unduly prejudicial.” He called samples from sickened individuals and the traceback evidence to PCA “extremely probative.” “Information as to how the CDC determined there was a salmonella outbreak, why it made that determination, and how the outbreak was traced to PCA would help the jury in determining whether Defendants knowingly or intentionally introduced adulterated food products into interstate commerce,” Sands writes. “Because the proposed testimony goes directly to the elements of the charged offense, the testimony is extremely relevant.” Since CDC collects information from doctors, hospitals, and infected individuals who filled out questionnaires, the defense claims it is deprived of the right to confront the originals sources of information that forms the basis of Dr. Williams’ testimony. Sands said the information was collected in response to an emergency — ending the outbreak — and not for criminal prosecution and is therefore permitted. And, based on the “same analytical framework,” Williams’ testimony about the multiplier is also allowed. The trial of Stewart Parnell, former PCA owner, Michael Parnell, the company’s peanut broker, and Mary Wilkerson, its quality control manager at the Blakely, GA, plant, is scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. on Monday EDT.