Appellate attorneys for Stewart Parnell, his brother Michael Parnell, and his former employee Mary Wilkerson and government prosecutors will get an unusual 40 minutes for their oral arguments before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday in Atlanta.
Fifteen minutes for each presentation is usually the time limit for oral arguments before the appellate court. Thirty-minute time limits are sometimes used for complex cases. But, extra time is not always approved.
The federal appellate court for the 11th Circuit that is hearing of the oral arguments is the last, best hope the Parnell brothers and Wilkerson have to see their convictions and sentences set aside. The trio was convicted in 2014 by a federal jury in Albany, GA. They were sentenced a year later for their roles in the sale of contaminated peanut butter that caused a Salmonella outbreak, sickening thousands and killing nine in 2008-09.
Stewart Parnell was chief executive officer of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America when the deadly Salmonella outbreak occurred. His brother Michael Parnell was a peanut broker associated with PCA. Wilkerson was a quality assurance manager for the company.
In 2015, Stewart and Michael were sentenced, respectively, to 28- and 20-year prison sentences. Wilkerson’s sentence was five years. All three immediately filed appeals of both their convictions and sentences. Both district and appellate courts, however, denied motions to release the defendants pending the outcome of the appeals. All three remain in federal custody.
The criminal prosecution of the former PCA executives began almost five years ago when a 76-count indictment was unsealed by the U.S. District Court in Albany, GA. Those federal charges followed a four-year investigation, led by the FBI, into PCA’s Blakely, GA, peanut processing plant. Federal food safety agencies and state laboratories connected to the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium reported in 46 states to the facility.
While the defense and prosecution have rarely agreed about anything, both sides requested that the appeals court hear oral arguments.
But, when the defense, represented by attorney Joseph R. Pope, suggested each group should get 40 minutes to make their case, Department of Justice attorney John Alexander Romano disagreed. Pope said “the extraordinary size of the record” alone merits the longer time frames. Romano told the court that 30 minutes would be “more than sufficient to address the issues.”
Romano said he would prefer to have the court add time if it’s needed during the live court session, but he also said the government would be prepared for “as long as the court wants.”
In addition to the written arguments already filed by the two sides, the appellate record for the two-month jury trial includes 600 docket entries and hundreds of exhibits. The appellants’ joint appendix includes 32 volumes. Wilkerson’s supplemental appendix includes another seven volumes totaling 6,000 pages. The government’s two-volume supplemental appendix adds another 550 pages.
Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat was brief in providing the 11th Circuit’s ruling: “Appellants’ motion for 10 minutes additional time per side for oral arguments: Granted.”
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