AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

CEO wants conviction tossed out in Georgia peanut poisoning case

Stewart Parnell asked a federal judge Monday to overturn his criminal convictions for knowingly marketing tainted peanut products, arguing that  it was based only on the "incredible" testimony of one witness and incriminating emails that should not have been admitted into evidence.

Among the emails was one where Parnell, the ex-president of Peanut Corp. of America, was advised that dust and "rat crap" covered totes containing peanut meal. Parnell told an employee to clean off the totes and ship the products, the AJC's Danny Robbins reported earlier this year.  In another email, Parnell advised employees to tell the Food and Drug Administration that a Canadian customer returned a shipment of peanuts because they were the incorrect size.  But emails indicate that he and others knew the product was returned because of metal in the peanuts. Parnell said not to mention metal to the FDA inspectors, the emails show.

In a court filing, Parnell also said that the prosecutor improperly told jurors that the case was about food safety and that the jury should "send a message" to insure safe food production by convicting Parnell and other defendants.

A Georgia jury in September convicted Parnell of conspiracy, fraud and other charges after a seven-week trial. At trial, prosecution did not mention that nine people had died after eating peanut products traced to Peanut Corp. of America. More than 700 were sickened.

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.