By Robert Boczkiewicz
DENVER (Reuters) - A federal court judge on Tuesday sentenced two Colorado farmers to six months of home detention and five years probation for their role in a deadly 2011 listeria outbreak linked to contaminated cantaloupes.
Eric and Ryan Jensen, brothers who are former owners of Colorado-based Jensen Farms, pleaded guilty in October to six counts of adulteration of a food and aiding and abetting linked to one of the deadliest U.S. outbreaks of food-borne illness.
"I must deliver both justice and mercy at the same time," U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Hegarty said during a hearing in Denver.
Hegarty cited the defendants' ability to earn enough income to pay restitution of $150,000 each to the families of those who died and other victims in the case as a reason for not sending them to jail.
Prosecutors had not asked for jail time for the brothers.
Both will be allowed to leave their homes for work, to attend church and for certain educational purposes under the sentence.
The Jensens' cantaloupes were washed and packed at a plant in Granada, Colorado. Equipment at the plant failed to wash fruit with enough anti-bacterial solutions to remove listeria bacterium, prosecutors said in court papers.
U.S. health officials originally said 33 people died in the outbreak, which spread across two dozen U.S. states. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Pena, however, told the court on Tuesday the number of deaths was closer to 40.
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)