Two weeks into the trial of three people charged in a deadly salmonella outbreak, testimony by a former manager of a southwest Georgia peanut plant blamed for the outbreak has dominated the court’s time.
Samuel Lightsey has been on the stand for about five days, reviewing shipping slips, laboratory test results, emails and other documents one by one under questioning by federal prosecutor Patrick Hearn in the trial of Lightsey’s former boss, Peanut Corp. of America owner Stewart Parnell, and two others.
The salmonella outbreak in late 2008 and early 2009 sickened more than 700 people and killed nine — three in Minnesota, two in Ohio, two in Virginia, one in Idaho and one in North Carolina. It prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.
Lightsey managed the plant in Blakely from July 2008 until the company went bankrupt after the outbreak in 2009 and was the top manager, reporting directly to Parnell. He pleaded guilty to seven criminal counts in May and has become a key witness for the prosecution.
Hearn told U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands on Wednesday that Lightsey’s testimony was taking considerably longer than he had anticipated.
Defense attorneys have made repeated objections as some documents are reviewed more than once and Lightsey’s testimony mirrors that of other witnesses, but the judge has overruled most of those objections.
The 76-count indictment accuses Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, of shipping tainted products to customers and covering up lab tests showing they contained salmonella. It also charges Stewart Parnell and the plant’s quality assurance manager, Mary Wilkerson, with obstructing justice.
There are many counts of identical charges, and prosecutors need to prove each count individually. Many of the documents are reviewed repeatedly because they relate to more than one count, prosecutors have said.
Lightsey began his testimony Aug. 8 and was still being questioned by prosecutors when testimony wrapped up Friday afternoon. Defense attorneys haven’t had a chance to question him yet.