A Tyson Foods Inc. executive convicted of giving illegal gifts to then-Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy was granted a new trial.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson said Friday that Archibald L. Schaffer III probably would have been acquitted had Espy been available to testify in his behalf. Espy refused to testify at Schaffer's trial while his own case was pending but has since been acquitted of corruption charges.

At a November hearing, Espy denied that Tyson Foods used a lavish company party he attended in 1993 to influence new meat-safety rules, although he admitted that the poultry industry knew at the time that the regulations were imminent.

Robertson last year overturned a jury verdict against Schaffer, saying no one at Tyson anticipated the rules at the time of the party. An appeals court subsequently reinstated the conviction, but Robertson ruled Friday that Espy's testimony "would probably produce an acquittal at a new trial."

Independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz immediately filed notice that he would appeal the judge's decision. His staff declined comment on the ruling.

Schaffer was convicted of violating the Meat Inspection Act by providing illegal gifts to Espy on two occasions: in January 1993, at President Clinton's inaugural dinner; and in May 1993, at the party in Russellville, Ark.