MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — A grand jury refused to indict former workers at a Pilgrim's Pride Corp. chicken plant who kicked and stomped live birds while being filmed undercover by an animal rights group.
Special prosecutor Ginny Conley had previously said she had no evidence to warrant criminal charges, but said Wednesday that more evidence had been found that persuaded her to present the case to a grand jury. Pressure from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals did little to sway her, she said.
"In fact, if anything, the harassment I received from PETA was very intrusive on me performing my duties as prosecutor," said Conley. "However, after I gained the additional information I received, I felt it at least warranted presentation to the citizens of Hardy County."
She wouldn't describe the additional evidence, but said some of it came from PETA.
The undercover PETA investigator who videotaped the acts helped Conley make a two-hour presentation to the grand jury Tuesday. But the panel did not charge the unidentified workers.
Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride fired 11 employees following the release of the PETA video last July and provided animal cruelty training at its 24 North American plants.
Pilgrim's Pride, with 2004 sales of almost $5.4 billion, is among the largest poultry producers in the United States and Mexico, and is a major supplier to fast-food chain KFC Corp., which PETA has targeted in its animal cruelty campaign.
PETA praised Conley for presenting the case and said it would continue its campaign to get the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to cover poultry in slaughterhouse, which the law currently excludes.
The Moorefield plant employs 2,300 workers and supports about 200 poultry farms in West Virginia.
In West Virginia, misdemeanor animal cruelty is punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail. Conviction of felony animal cruelty can be punished by one to three years in prison and as much as $5,000 in fines.
Shares of Pilgrim's Pride fell 7 cents to $34.96 Wednesday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.
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