(Reuters) – A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed charges against the former president of Blue Bell Creameries, which U.S. prosecutors said hid from customers what the company knew about contaminated ice cream linked to a 2015 listeria outbreak.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Texas, dismissed the case against Paul Kruse after the U.S. Department of Justice admitted that he did not revoke his right to be prosecuted by a grand jury, which prosecutors did not seek because of COVID-19.
Prosecutors in a new court submission said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic "prevented a safe meeting of the grand jury and constituted a significant demanding circumstance."
They argued that the dismissal of the case would now trigger a six-month period of imprisonment to secure a prosecution by a jury even after the five-year statute of limitations to charge Mr. Kruse had expired, a claim that his lawyers are competing with.
"We believe that further attempts to indict Mr. Kruse will be premature," Defense Attorney Chris Flood said in a statement. "Hopefully, the federal government can allocate its resources to more pressing issues during these trials."
The Ministry of Justice had no immediate comment.
Mr. Kruse was indicted on May 1
The company finally recalled its ice cream in 2015 after 10 reported cases of listeria in four states were linked to its products. Three of the patients, all hospital patients in Kansas, later died.
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