Post-trial motions for acquittal, dismissal, or, in the alternative, a new trial filed by defendants Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell, and Mary Wilkerson have all been denied by U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands. As many as 14 motions, sealed until now, were settled by the judge’s ruling on Thursday, although defense attorneys for the Parnell brothers already indicated they planned to appeal his decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. Sands’ action clears the way for sentencing of the three defendants formerly associated with the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) who were convicted by a jury trial last September. Two others pleaded guilty prior to trial under agreements that saw them testify for the government. The Parnells were convicted of 97 federal felony counts involving fraud and conspiracy, and Wilkerson was found guilty of one of two counts of obstruction of justice. In his 26-page ruling, Sands addressed all issues raised by the defense, including two of the main reasons they sought to have the jury verdict set aside. albanycourt_406The first had to do with alleged jury misconduct involving whether any jurors did their own research into the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak that led to the criminal charges against the former PCA executives. Nine deaths linked to that outbreak were not allowed to be introduced during the trial, but post-trial allegations surfaced that some jurors found out about the fatalities through their own research and brought it up in the jury room. Because of possible jury misconduct, court documents were sealed and two closed hearings were held, one on Oct. 23, 2014, and the other on Nov. 12, 2014, to probe jurors about what they knew and how they came to know it. At the first hearing, a person known as Juror 34 indicated that another person, known as Juror 35, had said “during jury selection that Juror 35 believed all Defendants were guilty because the actions resulted in the deaths of nine people.” The judge reminded Juror 34 that he should have been informed about anyone saying anything about the case during jury selection. Juror 34 acknowledged remembering that instruction, but as a first-time juror, was afraid to bring it up. The juror also said several others had done their own research during the course of the trial and “discovered that the Defendants ‘killed nine people.’” After the trial, Juror 34 raised the possibility of misconduct in a “personal encounter” with Wilkerson. In the second hearing, Juror 35 denied knowledge of the deaths or making any statements to Juror 34 or any others during jury selection. More than a dozen other jurors also testified at the second hearing. In his ruling, Sands stated that the defendants had not shown that Juror 35 failed to honestly answer material questions during jury selection: “Juror 37, who sat next to Juror 35 during jury selection, did not hear the then-prospective juror say the Defendant’s action were responsible for nine deaths. Nor did Juror 37 hear Juror 35 state any belief about the guilt or innocence of those on trial.” Further, the judge noted that he found many of the answers given by Juror 34 at the first sealed hearing were “vague and generalized.” In the court’s review of all the jurors questioned, Sands found that only Juror 34 could be “termed biased.” “Viewing the totality of the circumstances, the Court finds that there is no indication that any juror concealed bias from the Court or the Defendants,” Sands wrote in his ruling. “Juror 35 stated that Juror 35 did not state during jury selection that Juror 35 believed the Defendants to be guilty because they caused deaths or for any other reason. Juror 37 corroborated Juror 35’s referenced statement. Further, no other juror stated that Juror 35 asserted a belief that the Defendants were guilty for any reason during jury selection, or that any other person who was ultimately selected for jury service asserted such belief. For those reasons, the Court finds that the Defendants failed to demonstrate that any juror failed to honestly answer any questions during voir dire.” Sands also struck down the defendants’ claims that U.S. Department of Justice attorney Patrick Hearn’s closing statement to the jury was improper because it addressed food safety in a manner that might have “inflamed the jury.” The judge pointed out that he frequently instructed the jury that statements by counsel are not evidence and that verdicts should be based solely on evidence. Sands’ ruling appears to leave nothing undecided. Even Wilkerson’s May 20 motion seeking payment for a forensic expert to review the diary entries of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigator was denied. Sands said the time for new evidence has passed. The ruling means that the convictions of Stewart and Michael Parnell, along with Wilkerson, will stand. They will likely be sentenced, along with Samuel Lightsey, PCA’s former Blakely, GA, plant manger, and Daniel Kilgore, PCA’s former Blakely operations manager. Lightsey and Kilgore pleaded guilty to selected charges in the fraud and conspiracy case in an agreement with government prosecutors, and both men testified at the trial against the others. Stewart Parnell was the owner and chief executive for the now-defunct PCA. His brother Michael Parnell was a peanut broker doing business with PCA. Wilkerson was quality control manager for PCA’s Blakely plant, which was blamed for the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 700 people in 46 states and was linked to nine deaths.