ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — 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 Corporation 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 following 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.
As Hearn moved to admit batch after batch of documents Friday, he and Lightsey had a similar exchange over and over:
Hearn: "Mr. Lightsey, do you recognize these documents?"
Lightsey: "I do."
Hearn: "How do you recognize them?"
Lightsey: "I recognize them from my time at Peanut Corporation of America."
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.
As Lightsey rattled off dates and product lot numbers from shipping documents and laboratory certificates of analysis, some jurors seemed tired Friday — removing glasses to rub their eyes, leaning their heads heavily on their hands and even closing their eyes for periods of time. Others seemed restless, rocking in their seats or occasionally whispering in the ear of the person sitting next to them.
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.
The court did take a break from Lightsey on Thursday when the judge granted a prosecution request to suspend Lightsey's testimony for the first part of the day Thursday to allow four witnesses to testify out of order. Lightsey returned to the stand with about 30 minutes left of that day.