AP reports today that U.S. District Court Judge Louis Sands Thursday refused to throw out criminal convictions in a Salmonella outbreak traced to Former Peanut Corporation of America after the court investigated defense attorneys’ claims of jury misconduct.
Former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell, his food broker brother, Michael Parnell, and the former quality assurance manager of the company’s Georgia plant, Mary Wilkerson, were convicted in September on charges related to a salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009 that was blamed for 714 illnesses nationwide. Two other defendants pleaded guilty before the trial.
Court records unsealed Thursday show that months ago defense attorneys for all three defendants asked the judge to overturn the convictions after one juror came forward saying other jury members had researched the case outside the courtroom and discussed deaths that had been blamed on the outbreak. Deaths were not part of the trial evidence.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Louis Sands revealed that he had called all jury members back to court and interviewed them in closed-door sessions with attorneys in October and November. Sands said only the juror who initially approached defense attorneys — whom he referred to only as Juror 34 — claimed there was any misconduct that might jeopardize the verdicts.
“Throughout the sealed proceedings held on alleged juror misconduct, the court only uncovered one juror who could be termed biased: Juror 34,” Sands said in his ruling. He also concluded that, during the trial, “the evidence against the Defendants was overwhelming.”