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Blakely peanut defendants plead not guilty

Thomas Ledford, the attorney for Mary Wilkerson, carries a box out of the C.B. King Federal Courthouse Thursday morning following an initial appearance and arraignment.

Thomas Ledford, the attorney for Mary Wilkerson, carries a box out of the C.B. King Federal Courthouse Thursday morning following an initial appearance and arraignment.

ALBANY, Ga. — All four defendants indicted in connection with a Blakely peanut processing facility that prosecutors contend sickened hundreds and killed nine people by spreading salmonella bacteria entered not guilty pleas before a U.S. magistrate on Thursday.

Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell, Samuel Lightsey and Mary Wilkerson each entered the pleas before Magistrate Thomas Langstaff in response to a 76-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury. Thursday’s hearing was the group’s initial appearance before a judge in the case.

Each of the four was released on an unsecured bond and ordered to surrender any passports. Stewart Parnell, the former owner of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), and Michael Parnell were released on $100,000 bonds. Lightsey was released on a $50,000 bond, and Wilkerson was released on a $25,000 bond.

Prosecutors said if the defendants were convicted on all counts and the maximum sentences were imposed, Stewart Parnell could face 754 years in prison and a $17 million fine; Michael Parnell could receive up to 437 years in prison and a $10.7 million fine; Lightsey could face 368 years in prison and a $9.5 million fine, and Wilkerson could receive up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

According to the indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office contends that the four were vital components to a conspiracy that involved shipping salmonella-tainted peanut butter and peanut butter paste to vendors across the country.

The four are indicted on charges ranging from mail and wire fraud to obstruction of justice.

Comments

VSU 1 year, 9 months ago

Of course they plead not guilty, don't they always?

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J.D._Sumner 1 year, 9 months ago

If they did, they wouldn't have had an arraignment. You "always" have the option to plead guilty or not guilty.

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Somebody 1 year, 9 months ago

Yeah but just seems nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions. They all seem to plead not guilty, knowing all the time they are guilty. Although I guess by pleading not guilty they figure they have a chance, whereas pleading guilty would be an admission, but just cracks me up that they always plea not guilty.

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J.D._Sumner 1 year, 9 months ago

You're right. I'd venture to say that most of the time an arraignment is more strategy than it is for "doing the right thing." I will say that generally, the feds tend to have an extremely high conviction rate so when they bring cases, usually they're really strong cases. These four folks have got a long road ahead of them if they all expect to walk on this.

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VSU 1 year, 9 months ago

Some people just prefer to roll the dice. I agree with you! I am thinking if they plead guilty they are more or less saying they did it. I guess they figure they will take their chances with the court. Probably only way they plead guilty is to get a lighter sentence.

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southgawreck 1 year, 9 months ago

I don't know that I agree with that. I'm sure that's correct in many cases, but there are many, many cases where people plead guilty, especially in situations where they have done wrong and plead to a lesser charge (plea-bargain) so that both parties get what they want (leniency for defendent, sure conviction for prosecution), or in exchange for testimony against others (not always the most ethical or credible situation).

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FryarTuk 1 year, 9 months ago

AH: "These four folks have got a long road ahead of them if they all expect to walk on this. " You got to be kidding. The Camilla pharmacist was convicted on 69 counts of medicaid fraud (stole million$) in October, 2009 and is strutting around free. Hasn't been behind the pipes a second. I say they stand a very good chance of staying free convicted or otherwise.

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DoctorDorite 1 year, 9 months ago

They'll go free because the government does'nt want to or can't answer to where the peanut/food inspectors were during this ??? peanuts are one of the most inspected (supposedly) food products in America, not only the nut itself but warehouses cold storages, etc. etc. are also constantly inspected (supposedly) yet these peanuts went from the planted seed all the way to the finished eaten product ???? were the inspectors asleep, incompentant or paid off to let'em ride ? THAT is the story that should be researched.

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