While a number of jurors were dismissed because a two-month trial would create hardships for them, a 12-member jury and six alternates were selected on July 31, 2014, and opening statements began the next day in the criminal prosecution of former Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) owner Stewart Parnell, his brother Michael Parnell and the company’s quality control manager Mary Wilkerson. United States v. Parnell, 13-cr-12 (U.S. Dist. Ct., M.D. Ga., Albany Div.).
Earlier in the week, the court denied Wilkerson’s motion to dismiss or alternatively for a continuance and severance and to compel meaningful discovery. She claimed that the government’s discovery disclosures “were not accompanied by easily searchable databases” and that she was not timely provided a password to access one of two discovery disclosures. The court had apparently considered some of these issues previously and found that “Wilkerson has not demonstrated any changed circumstances that would require the Court to reconsider its referenced findings.” The court also found no prosecutorial misconduct and that she failed to assert any argument to support her request for a severance.
The media are closely following trial developments, and WALB news is providing live coverage from the courthouse. The prosecution reportedly opened by displaying emails from Stewart Parnell allegedly saying “. . . just ship it. I cannot afford to lose another customer.” The prosecutor also discussed the companies that PCA shipped peanut paste to and examples of the wide range of products the paste was used in. He further indicated the different ways that the company allegedly manipulated product testing and testing results to appear to comply with customer specifications, as well as failed to hold product pending the outcome of Salmonella testing. Also addressed during his opening were the findings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracing a 2008 nationwide Salmonella outbreak to PCA’s plant in Blakely, Georgia. More than 700 people were allegedly sickened in the outbreak, and nine died. See News4Georgia, July 28, 2014; ABC News, July 31, 2014; and WALB News, August 1, 2014.