Minn. victim anxious for CEO's trial for peanut butter deaths - KMSP-TV

Minn. victim anxious for CEO's trial for peanut butter deaths

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Salmonella bacteria. Photo courtesy of NIAID Salmonella bacteria. Photo courtesy of NIAID

It was a case that rocked the nation 5 years ago -- 9 dead and hundreds sickened by tainted peanut butter. Now, the former owner and CEO is going on trial, and a Minnesota man who lost his mother will be there.

"It's been a long time coming," Jeff Almer told Fox 9 News.

More than 5 years have passed since Almer's mother, Shirley, died from eating tainted peanut butter produced by the Peanut Corporation of America. The 72-year-old had survived cancer twice, but she couldn't best the potentially deadly bacteria. Even though half a decade has past, her son still doesn't have closure.

"I think about it at some point during the day -- probably more than once a day because nothing is finished yet," Almer explained. "Doesn't feel like the job is done."

Stewart Parnell is accused of knowingly manufacturing and shipping a product containing salmonella, Almer has a copy of the 76-count indictment against Parnell in his office. For years, Almer has been one of the most outspoken family member of a victim who has pressed for charges.

"They called me personally after the indictments were announced to talk about my mom and me," Almer recalled. "Inspired them to continue on with those long, investigative days."

In 2009, Parnell appeared before Congress -- but he wasn't saying much.

"On advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer your questions," he said.

Now, he's facing what could be groundbreaking charges, according to food safety attorney Ryan Osterholm, who represented the Almers during their civil case.

"He's the first I'm aware of that has been charged with a felony," Osterholm told Fox 9 News.

Osterholm explained that the government is accusing Parnell of shipping a product he knew was tainted with salmonella, but he says charging the owners of food companies is extremely rare.

"When a CEO has to look at his company and the food he's producing and say, 'I'm responsible for this and potentially criminally responsible for this, it's a very important step in the right direction," Osterholm said.

Yet, even though the charges may be unprecedented, Almer said he just hopes that the trial will conclude with conviction and jail time.

"He's a murderer," Almer said. "So, if he goes to prison, I don't care what charges they are. He needs to be in prison because he put greed above everything else. His morals are corrupt."

The trial begins Monday, and Almer will be there. He doesn't plan to testify, but he will read a victim impact statement if Parnell is convicted.

"He needs to hear how that affected people, and I've been writing that in my head for the last 5 years, hoping that moment would come," Almer said.

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