UPDATE: Guilty verdict in peanut trial should send warning

Peanut Corporation of AmericaSat., Sept. 20 12:20 a.m.

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — Food safety advocates say a guilty verdict in a rare federal food-poisoning trial should send a stern warning to others who may be tempted to place profits over people’s welfare. Five years ago, hundreds of Americans got sick from eating salmonella-tainted peanut butter. The top executive at the Georgia plant where it was made was convicted Friday of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, wire fraud and other crimes. Former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell could face more than three decades in prison for the outbreak linked to nine deaths and prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history. His brother and a second co-defendant could face 20 years in prison. Experts say it was the first time American food processors have gone to trial on federal charges in a food-poisoning case.

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Fri., Sept. 19 1:52 p.m.

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — A federal jury has convicted three people in connection with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths. Former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell was found guilty Friday of conspiracy and other charges after a seven-week trial in Albany, Georgia. Parnell, his brother, Michael Parnell, and quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson have been on trial since Aug. 1 on federal charges stemming from the 2008-2009 outbreak that sickened 714 and was linked to nine deaths. Michael Parnell was found guilty of conspiracy. Wilkerson was found guilty of obstruction.

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Thurs., Sept. 18 5:25 p.m.

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) _ Jurors are breaking for the night without a verdict in the trial of a Georgia peanut plant owner charged in a salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds five years ago. The federal jury in Albany met for about eight hours Thursday before its foreman told the judge members wished to stop for the evening. The jury is scheduled to return Friday morning. Thursday was the first full day of jury deliberations in the trial of former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell and two others. Parnell ran the company from  his home just outside of Lynchburg, Va., in Bedford Co. He and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, are charged with knowingly shipping tainted peanut butter to customers and faking results of lab tests intended to screen for salmonella. The plant’s former quality control manager, Mary Wilkerson, and Stewart Parnell are charged with obstruction.

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Thurs., Sept. 18 1:40 p.m.

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) _ A jury has resumed deliberations in the trial of the owner of a Georgia peanut plant charged in a salmonella outbreak five years ago. Jurors returned Thursday morning to the federal courthouse in Albany to continue weighing evidence against former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell. Two others also were charged in the outbreak that sickened 714 people in states including Virginia and was linked to nine deaths. Parnell ran the company from his Lynchburg area home. He and his brother, Michael Parnell, are charged with knowingly shipping tainted peanut butter to customers and faking lab tests for salmonella. The plant’s former quality control manager, Mary Wilkerson, is charged with obstruction of justice, as is Stewart Parnell. The jury began deliberations last Friday after hearing trial testimony for six weeks. Court was in recess earlier this week.

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Thurs., Sept. 18 6:38 a.m.

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) _ A jury weighing criminal charges against the owner of a Georgia peanut plant blamed for a nationwide salmonella outbreak will decide the case without hearing one fact — that nine people died after eating the company’s tainted peanut butter. Jury deliberations were scheduled to resume Thursday in the federal trial of former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell and two co-defendants. Parnell ran the company from his home outside of Lynchburg, Va. Prosecutors say Parnell knowingly shipped contaminated peanut butter and faked lab tests for salmonella. During nearly six weeks of testimony, jurors heard evidence that people got sick. But prosecutors never mentioned deaths. U.S. Attorney Michael Moore says prosecutors felt they could build their strongest case around fraud charges, and testimony regarding deaths would have distracted jurors and possibly made any convictions vulnerable to appeals.

Staff writer Velvet Hall contributed to this report.

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