BURLINGTON, Vt. – Three men suing ConAgra Foods Inc. over frozen chicken they ate while in prison got their day in court Thursday.
The suit, which seeks $100,000 in damages, was filed by Christopher Butts, Henry Butson and Corydon Cochran, who say they ate part of the chicken while serving prison terms at Lee Adjustment Facility, in Beattyville, Ky., where some Vermont inmates are sent because of crowding in Vermont jails.
Butts and Cochran were in court for the trial Thursday — bringing the specimen with them, in a brown paper bag.
Butson, who's serving 25 years to life for the fatal 2003 shootings of his ex-girlfriend and a man she was seeing, participated by speakerphone from prison.
Each acted as their own attorney for the proceeding, questioning the others in court.
Butts, of Killingly, Conn., told U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions that he bit into a piece of microwaved Banquet chicken that contained pus, grain and corn after buying it at a prison store in November 2005.
Butts spit it out and got sick, had diarrhea for a week, lost weight, was harassed by other inmates and can no longer eat chicken, he said.
"I was sick. I don't know if it was psychosomatic. I had diarrhea, I just couldn't put anything in my mouth," said Butts, who served four years for a fatal drunken driving crash and is now on probation.
ConAgra attorney Gary Stewart, of Harrisburg, Pa., suggested that Butts may have had the flu since he'd visited the prison nurse two days before for other symptoms.
Stewart asked the judge to throw out the suit, saying Butts never proved the chicken was defective because he didn't have it tested.
Butson and Cochran, who acknowledged they didn't get sick from the chicken, are seeking emotional damages.
"Frankly, the only injury you sustained was a phobia of seeing chicken?" Stewart asked Butson, of St. Johnsbury.
Stewart said they didn't suffer physical injury so they can't seek emotional damages under Vermont law.
Sessions refused to admit the chicken into evidence, saying it had been handled by others in the three-year interim. He also questioned whether they had proved that the chicken was truly defective.
Cochran, of Cabot, said he didn't care about the money; he just wanted ConAgra to take responsibility for any wrongdoing.
ConAgra spokeswoman Cindi Hartman testified that the company had received no complaints in 2005 like the one at issue.
Sessions didn't rule Thursday. He will later, he said.
"It's essentially a legal issue whether there's sufficient evidence to show ... that the object found in the chicken was defective."