Only a quick motion for release on bond pending appeal can keep Mary Wilkerson from having to report to a federal women’s prison on Nov. 3, now less than two weeks away. Her attorney filed such a motion with the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta on Oct. 14, and yesterday Assistant U.S. Attorney K. Alan Dasher, who prosecuted the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) defendants, responded in opposition to the request. Wilkerson was sentenced a month ago to five years of imprisonment for her 2014 jury conviction on one count of obstruction of justice. Unlike her co-defendants, the former quality assurance manager for PCA’s Blakely, GA, peanut processing plant was allowed to remain free until she was given a report date by the Bureau of Prisons. In the motion for release, defense attorney Thomas G. Ledford wrote, “On October 8, 2015 Wilkerson received a Notice to Surrender on November 3, 2015, which now makes this Motion Time-Sensitive.” The two others convicted by the same jury, former PCA CEO Stewart Parnell and his peanut broker brother, Michael Parnell, were taken into federal custody by the U.S. Marshals Service immediately after sentencing. All three defendants have filed notices of appeal with the Eleventh Circuit, but in seeking to remain free while the appeals are considered, Wilkerson has already made substantive arguments in an effort to interest the appellant judges. Ledford recounts 11 trial court motions, which he contends show how the prosecution failed to provide Wilkerson’s defense with “exculpatory and relevant Discovery” to allow it to “eliminate unnecessary searching through millions of non-relevant documents which consumed Wilkerson’s time at the cost of preparing a defense and unsuccessfully digging out the exculpatory evidence before Trial … .” Dasher states that the government agrees that Wilkerson is not a flight risk and that she does not pose a danger to anyone’s safety, or the community’s safety, if released. But the federal government’s veteran prosecutor for Georgia’s Middle District also states that Wilkerson’s attorney has not come up with a substantial question of law or fact that is likely to result in a reversal of conviction or an order for a new trial. Under the law, Dasher states that the conviction is presumed correct unless the defendant can establish otherwise. As for the alleged discovery violations, Dasher states that they’ve been raised many times before. “The government thoroughly responded to each of the Appellant’s allegations and accusations,” Dasher writes in his opposition brief. He states that the issues were also all addressed and denied by the trial court. Further, Dasher states that Wilkerson “freely admits that she was provided the needed evidence, but claims she was prevented from locating it prior to Trial.” Wilkerson charges that the government left her “deliberately buried” with millions of unindexed and unorganized documents. But Dasher claims that the court granted her numerous continuances and help from a computer technician to use software to manage the documents. For those reasons, the trial court found that it “cannot conclude that she was in any way prejudiced by the Government’s production of voluminous discovery.” “The government notes that while the case as a whole was declared by the district court to be ‘complex,’ the two counts charging Wilkerson with obstruction were not at all complex,” Dasher writes. Her conviction on one count of obstruction of justice involved her denial of having any knowledge of PCA getting positives in its testing for Salmonella prior to the 2008-09 outbreak that brought down the company. But, in June 2008, Wilkerson acknowledged that PCA was having problems with Salmonella positives “at least every other week.” The trial court found there was sufficient evidence to support the jury verdict and that Wilkerson was “impeding or obstructing” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s investigation of the Salmonella outbreak. The government also notes that the evidence for a second count of obstruction of justice, on which Wilkerson was acquitted by the jury, was specifically cited in the indictment. Dasher also takes exception to Ledford’s use of the phrase “data dump” when referring to the production of discovery materials, but the defense attorney sees it differently. “At the very least, the Government prosecution should have identified the meaningful exculpatory and relevant evidence out of 6 to 8 million pages of documents as requested by Wilkerson in several Motions filed Pre-Trial, but to no avail,” Ledford’s motion states. “No action was taken by the Court compelling the Government to produce relevant and meaningful evidence, either, so that Wilkerson would have have been required to spend so much valuable time searching fruitlessly when she could’ve spent more time on preparing for her Defense using the relevant evidence in preparing for Trial.” The Bureau of Prisons has provided Stewart and Michael Parnell with registration numbers, but neither man has yet been transferred into custody. Stewart Parnell is appealing his 28-year sentence, and Michael Parnell is appealing his 20-year sentence. Federal prisoners often remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for some time after sentencing for a variety of reasons.
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