Stewart Parnell should be sentenced to life in prison, Michael Parnell to 17.5-21.8 years in prison, and Mary Wilkerson to 8-10 years in prison, according to recommendations from the U.S. Probation Office. U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys say those recommendations have been “correctly calculated.” Speaking for Stewart Parnell’s defense team, Atlanta attorney Ken Hodges called the government’s recommendation for a life sentence for his client “truly absurd.” The “no quarter” recommendations for the scheduled Sept. 21 sentencing of three defendants in the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) criminal indictment, disclosed in court documents on Thursday, far exceed earlier estimates of what the punishments might be in the case. Stewart Parnell was PCA’s chief executive officer, his brother, Michael Parnell, was a peanut broker, and Wilkerson was quality assurance manager at the company’s Blakely, GA, peanut processing plant. The sentences, which ultimately will be decided by U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands, could be the most severe penalties ever imposed for food safety-related infractions since federal regulation of food started a century ago. “On September 19, 2014, a jury found Stewart Parnell guilty on all but one count; Michael Parnell guilty on all counts except those involving the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce; and Wilkerson guilty on one of two counts of obstruction as alleged in the indictment,” said the government brief in support of the pre-sentence reports. Government attorneys said they had no objections to the pre-sentence investigative reports, and to the extent that the defendants did, “the vast majority of objections are general grievances regarding factual statements or claims of factual commissions, they are nothing more than an attempt to change the facts that were presented at trial and the jury found in deciding to convict all three defendants.” They said the presentation by the defendants at the July 1-2 evidentiary hearing was “a misplaced attempt to call into question the jury’s verdict.” Prior to that hearing, the court on May 28, 2015, denied the defendants’ motion for acquittal, finding that the evidence at trial overwhelming supported the convictions. After a four-year investigation led by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the defendants were named in a 76-count felony indictment in February 2013 and went to a jury trial in July 2014. The charges included fraud and conspiracy, along with selling misbranded and adulterated food into interstate commerce. The charges stemmed from the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak which sickened thousands of people and likely contributed to the deaths of nine of them. Peanut butter and peanut paste produced by PCA was found to be the source of the outbreak.
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