Lawyers make final arguments in PCA trial

Lawyers make final arguments in PCA trial

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - 1:50PM  The jury is picking a leader and getting the evidence. Court will be in recess next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  If no verdict is reached Friday or Saturday, then the jury will come back Thursday.

12:00 Noon - Court is in a 20 minute break

11:35AM - Department of Justice Attorney Patrick Hearn has the last words with the jury and is going now. He said "this is about people wanting to know that the food they eat is safe. That did not happen in this case."

He is attacking a couple of points made by defendants. He is going through jury instructions now and trying to tell the jury how to look at the evidence and relate it to the charges. He gave them instruction about going through direct and circumstantial evidence and how to process it all.

11:10AM –

Attorney Ed Tolley's closing arguments continued on the relationship with Kellogg's and referred to Samuel Lightsey's testimony when he said: "Kellogg's had to know that we couldn't keep up with their demands." He inferred that Kellogg's would know, so they weren't really being defrauded.

Kilgore testified that he didn't know who brought up the idea for making false Certificates of Analysis (COA). Tolley said this proves it was before Michael Parnell came to work with PCA.

The biggest point in his closings was that Stewart and Michael aren't close at all. He showed an email of Stewart complaining to Michael about the cost he was incurring on PCA. Tolley said there is no way two people who aren't close at all would be working together in a conspiracy. Tolley also referenced the fact that the government never called any of the unindicted coconspirators. He said Kilgore was dishonest in his testimony.

There was a corporate meeting in Lynchburg that the government pinned as a day the conspiracy could have been informally mentioned, but records show that Michael Parnell was not at that meeting.

An FBI investigator said she was able to connect the dots on the fake COAs after looking at dump reports and production logs, Tolley said those are two files that Michael Parnell never had any access to and were kept only at PCA. He pointed out that there is no reason to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars if all the tests were going to be faked.

Tolley showed an email where Parnell was contacting Kellogg's about moving a shipping date. He told the jury that it was proof that Parnell was worried about the testing results and wanted to get things to Kellogg's correctly.

Tolley also said that Parnell never supervised any paste line at PCA and had no direction over the product. He only came to the plant to fix his trucks and supervise the loading. Kilgore testified that he made the peanut paste line.

Another charge against Michael Parnell is that he defrauded Kellogg's by sending paste with Mexican paste mixed in. Tolley brought up a testimony where Kilgore testified: "I don't believe that Michael knew we used Mexican paste."

His closing remark is that Parnell was never complicit in defrauding Kellogg's or any other customers. He didn't want to distribute anything that was misbranded or adulterated. Most of his closing argument was focused on breaking down the charges that his client was involved in a conspiracy to defraud customers.

10:55AM - Ledford presented his closing remarks for Mary Wilkerson. He brought up Lightsey's testimony where he told the jury that Mary Wilkerson was very helpful in the investigation and helped the government attain documents.

Mary Wilkerson is charged with two counts of obstruction. In the first count, the government says Wilkerson lied to inspectors when they asked her about the other failed tests for salmonella. Ledford said she didn't work in QA and she told the truth because she really didn't know.

The other charge is in regards to her hiding a log book. Ledford said all the evidence shows that this log book was easily accessible and anyone could have gotten it. He said his client never purposely hid it and reiterated that Wilkerson was helpful throughout the whole investigation and was the last person out the door at PCA. Ledford said Wilkerson sounded the alarm when she saw something wrong.

His closing remark: "Mary Wilkerson did not lie to investigators, and she didn't hide that log book. She was helpful and truthful."

10:10AM Friday - Defense Attorney Edward Tolley is up for Michael Parnell. Defense Attorney Tom Bondurant started off for about an hour and 15 minutes for defendant Stewart Parnell. 

 Bondurant started off agreeing that PCA had falsified COA's and retested their products. He says there is nothing illegal about that though. His first quote was: "PCA is not Stewart Parnell. Stewart Parnell is not PCA." He said the actions of others aren't enough to convict him.

He said the government's case was biased towards an inspection done by the FDA. Seven other inspections before the FDA came in 2009 (after the outbreak) found no major violations in the plant. Bondurant showed emails proving that FDA investigator added content to satisfy her supervisors.

Bondurant said the salmonella outbreak had to be blamed on someone and that a small business owner was the best one to hold accountable. Bondurant showed emails that the government showed during their trial that "were taken out of context." He said Parnell was fully cooperative and "cooperative people aren't guilty."

Bondurant made a point to tell the jury that the government failed to call any unindicted coconspirators in the trial. He said that's proof that there was no real evidence of a conspiracy. The government made a big point to prove that Kellogg's was "worth millions" to Stewart Parnell. Bondurant showed an email proving Parnell LOST $600 per tanker that was sent out with peanut paste.

One big piece of evidence for the government is an email about whiting out COA forms. Kilgore testified that the email had nothing to do with the scheme to Kellogg's and therefore Bondurant said that is not a piece of evidence in the conspiracy. He said it was another example of the government taking things out of context.

Bondurant reiterated points he brought up in opening statements. Parnell hired Lightsey and Kilgore to run the plant for him. After testimony and evidence, he said the jury should see that those two let Parnell down. They're the ones to blame. Bondurant said Parnell "cannot be held criminally responsible for the crimes of other people."

No one in the industry or government knew that salmonella could exist in peanut butter and there is not and was not any law on testing products. Parnell and his family ate the peanut butter. Bondurant said this is proof that there is a lack of criminal intent from Parnell and PCA. Parnell was never told that retesting was wrong, even when inspectors came and looked at his plant.

In his closing, Bondurant said Parnell was a small business owner caught in the middle of a changing food safety industry. He said Kilgore acted on his own accord and that his testimony should prove he was untrustworthy. Bondurant closed saying Parnell was never the head of a large conspiracy and there is not enough proof here to convict Parnell on any of the charges.

Attorney Edward Tolley only got a little bit into his arguments before the break, but he is focusing on the Kellogg's contract because that's what brings Michael Parnell into the case. So far he has said Kellogg's was complicit and turned a blind eye. They knew what was going on and could have prevented things. 

Kellogg's never sued Michael Parnell for breaching their contract, so he obviously wasn't defrauding them. Kellogg's didn't want to pay for the testing of the finished product so they pushed the liability off on Parnell and PP Sales.

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