A forensic expert should be hired by the court to determine if a page in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration agent’s diary was tampered with before last summer’s trial of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives. That’s the latest request from court-appointed defense attorney Thomas G. Ledford, who represents Mary Wilkerson, the former manager of quality control at PCA’s Blakely, GA, processing plant. Ledford wants U.S, District Court Judge W. Louis Sands to approve a $1,000 payment to hire Farrell C. Shiver, a forensic document examiner from Woodstock, GA. If that request is approved, Shiver will examine the “suspect” diary page of FDA Agent Janet Gray, who questioned both Wilkerson and Stewart Parnell, PCA’s owner and chief executive, about the company’s peanut butter sampling and testing for Salmonella. http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-decorative-scales-justice-courtroom-image20405420Wilkerson was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, and while she was acquitted by a jury on one of those counts, she was convicted on the other stemming from her answers to Gray’s questioning. Ledford says his client said that earlier in the year she was not working in quality assurance and was not aware of any positive test results. “FDA Agent Janet Gray had no official documentation of any conversation, any questions, any answers, quote, recordings of any kind nor was any evidence produced from the key government witness to corroborate Agent Gray’s testimony referencing a scratch note on the corner of a unknown page from an unknown source, that she referred to as coming from her ‘diary,’” states Ledford’s court document. He says the defense was deprived of the opportunity to review and examine the original diary of Agent Gray prior to trial since it was not produced and the notes were “buried in million of comments.” Ledford says that diary page is “essential evidence” for the remaining obstruction of justice count against his client. It was part of Government Exhibit 837 at trial. The Albany, GA-based defense attorney writes that, in a recent review of the evidence, he became aware of what appears to be a redaction of a portion of Government’s Exhibit #837. “The ‘suspect’ page from the diary of Agent Janet Gray appears to be a copy scanned onto the computer disk which leaves the opportunity for redactions at some point in handling by others before it was scanned,” Ledford states. “Although the Defendant and her Counsel are not experts, even with the naked eye by closely examining the page and enlarging same, the marks are extremely suspicious and indicative of residue ozone or more words that may have been redacted off the page before production to the submission into evidence and admitted as Government Exhibit #837.” In addition to asking for an ex-parte hearing on the matter, Ledford is asking Sands to approve the payment to Shiver so that he might examine the “suspect” page and potentially remain available to the defense to refute and impeach its credibility. Ledford wanted his request to be filed under seal, but Sands did not go along with that. “The motion does not reference any matter currently under seal and does not raise any matter the Court believes should be withheld from public observation,” the judge wrote in an order issued Wednesday. “In other words, because the motion and exhibits Wilkerson seeks to file do not contain sensitive information, the Court finds that filing those under seal would be inappropriate.” Wilkerson’s is only the latest post-trial motion in the eight months since the jury convicted a trio of PCA executives. While she was found guilty on the sole felony count of obstruction of justice, brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell were together convicted on 97 felony fraud and conspiracy charges contained in a February 2013 grand jury indictment. The Parnell brothers are seeking a new trial based on arguments about jurors doing their own research, prosecution making closing statements about food safety, and other alleged trial mistakes. The trial followed a nearly five-year federal investigation into the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak associated with the PCA peanut processing plant in Blakely blamed for a nationwide Salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 700 and killed nine people. It also led to the largest ingredient recall by multiple food manufacturers in U.S. history. Two other former PCA executives, Daniel Kilgore and Samuel Lightsey, pleaded guilty prior to trial under agreements with the government. All the defendants remain free pending sentencing.