Following a seven-week trial in Albany, Georgia, a jury has reportedly convicted former Peanut Corp. of America owner Stewart Parnell, his brother Michael Parnell and quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson on charges stemming from a 2008-2009 Salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds of people nationwide and was linked to nine deaths. United States v. Parnell, No. 13-cr-12 (U.S. Dist. Ct., M.D. Ga., Albany Div., verdict entered September 19, 2014). Details about the mail and wire fraud, obstruction and conspiracy charges appear in Issue 472 of this Update. The conspiracy and obstruction charges each carry a potential sentence of 20 years in prison; sentencing will occur at a later date. Two former plant managers who were also charged entered guilty pleas that required them to cooperate with the prosecution.
According to a news source, this could be the first time that corporate executives and facility workers have gone to trial in the United States on criminal charges arising from a food-contamination incident. The company’s products were used as ingredients in crackers and other snack foods. While jurors heard testimony from some 50 witnesses and prosecutors introduced approximately 1,000 documents, jurors did not learn during trial that anyone died from eating contaminated products. Victims’ survivors who attended the trial were surprised that prosecutors made the strategic decision not to introduce evidence about the deaths and were apparently concerned that the jurors would not be able to grasp the significance of the defendants’ alleged conduct. See Associated Press, September 18 and 19, 2014.