In the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) criminal case, brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell are the former executives. Stewart was PCA’s chief executive officer and Michael brokered peanuts to the company. Mary Wilkerson was the quality control manager who moved up from a receptionist position. The former PCA junior management employee was convicted by a jury last September of one of the two obstruction of justice counts with which she was charged.

Thomas Ledford
Attorney Thomas Ledford leaving the federal courthouse in Albany, GA.
Ever since then, her court-appointed attorney, Thomas G. Ledford of Albany, GA, has been looking for a way to get that remaining felony count lifted off his client. Wilkerson is scheduled to be sentenced with the Parnell brothers next month. Obstruction of justice, a federal felony count having to do with what is said or not said, carries a maximum prison term of 20 years. The U.S. Probation Office, which investigates defendants and makes sentencing recommendations to the courts, wants Wilkerson to be put away for 8 to 10 years. While the Parnells hail from Virginia and their defense attorneys are among the finest Atlanta, Roanoke, VA, and Athens, GA, have to offer, Ledford is the only Southern-sounding gentleman in this case playing out in a Middle District of Georgia courtroom. He is leaving no stone unturned in his defense of Wilkerson, who also is the only south Georgia local involved in the PCA case. After having his motions to overturn the jury verdict and for a new trial turned down by U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands, Ledford is now on a hunt for about one-third of the witness transcripts from the trial to see if he can find something that might get his client off. He wanted to keep all this secret by pleading with Sands to allow him to seal his requests, but he did not get his way on that one. “The motion does not reference any matter currently under seal and does not raise any matter the Court believes should be withheld from the public observation,” Sands wrote in an order denying Ledford’s request for secrecy. “In other words, because the motion and exhibits Wilkerson seeks to file do not contain sensitive information, the Court finds that filing those motions under seal would be inappropriate.” Ledford went ahead and filed his motion on the record, asking the court to allow the payment of tax money to pay for “Transcripts of all proceedings in the case, including, but not limited to the Pre-Trial, Trial, and Post Trial … .” He needs the court to approve a voucher for payment if he is to obtain the transcripts he wants from the trial proceedings. Ledford is permitted to file under seal objections to the Pre-Sentence Investigative Report about his client. Mainly, he wants the transcripts of the testimony of about eight witnesses from last year’s trial. “Although Defendant Wilkerson cannot remember the content of the testimony of each and every witness, Government or otherwise, that testified over the 35 days at Trial, she has reason to believe that she will need these Transcripts in preparing for the Sentencing hearing currently set for Sept. 21 and 22, 2015,” states Ledford’s motion. He claims that his client will be denied due process until she gets the records of witness testimony “to refute PSR (pre-sentence reports) and the Government’s Response to the Defendant’s Objections to the PSR, as well as, the Victims Impact Statements and possible Government witnesses at the upcoming sentencing hearing.” Ledford has also asked for the transcripts of the witness testimonies of Samuel Lightsey and Daniel Kilgore, the former PCA plant managers in Blakely, GA, FBI Agents Cindy Allard and Janet Gray, and others. Wilkerson and the Parnell brothers are scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 21-22, 2015, in the federal courthouse in Albany, GA. They were convicted last September by the same jury on a broad range of fraud and conspiracy charges, all stemming from the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products produced by PCA in Blakely and Plainview, TX, which sickened thousands of people and killed nine. Stewart Parnell is facing a life sentence recommendation, and Michael Parnell could get from 17.8 to 22.5 years in federal prison, plus fines and restitution.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)