Motions by Stewart Parnell, Michael Parnell, and Mary Wilkerson to be released from their prison terms while they appeal their convictions and sentences have all been denied by U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands. On Monday, Sept. 21, Sands sentenced 61-year-old Stewart Parnell, former chief executive officer of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), to 28 years in prison for knowingly shipping peanut products contaminated with Salmonella. His peanut broker brother, Michael Parnell, 56, was sentenced to 20 years. Mary Wilkerson, 41, former quality assurance manager at PCA’s peanut processing plant in Blakely, GA, was sentenced to five years in a federal women’s prison. Sands stated that he denied from the bench on Monday motions for release pending appeal from the Parnell brothers before ordering them to be taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service. Attorneys for the Parnells had filed their motions before Monday’s sentencing hearing began. Wilkerson filed her motion for release pending appeal after the sentencing, and it was denied by Sands in a written order issued Wednesday. The trial judge made additional “findings and conclusions” in his written order regarding the Parnells. Sands stated that a defendant “bears the burden of establishing that he or she should be released pending appeal. Here, the Court found that neither Stewart nor Michael Parnell had established by clear and convincing evidence that they were not likely to flee if released based on the length of sentences imposed on them and the financial and other resources available to them through family and other connections.” In addition to falling short of providing “clear and convincing” evidence that they would not flee, Sands stated that the Parnells did not meet the burden of showing that their appeals would raise a substantial question of law likely to result in reversal and an order for a new trial that would result in a sentence involving no imprisonment, or a term less that the total amount of time that will be served during the appeal process. The judge added that none of the defendants “specially addressed why they believe the issues they intend to raise on appeal would raise substantial questions; rather, they listed which issues they intend to raise on appeal and made generalized statements contending that those issues were unprecedented and of first impression.” Sands offered this assessment of their appeal chances: “As to the other appeal issues articulated by the Defendants, the Court finds that although much about this case was unprecedented — the charges applied to the conduct, the underlying actions, the implication for food industry owners and operators — the legal and factual issues the Defendants seek to appeal were not issues of first impression, unsettled law or close calls, and their appeals are not likely to result in reversal, an order for a new trial, a sentence that does not include a term of imprisonment or reduced sentence to a term of imprisonment less than the total time already served.” In her motion, Wilkerson repeated a string of issues that her counsel has raised in recent months, but Sands stated that it, too, fails to “assert why she believes these issues raise substantial questions for (appellate) purposes.” Unlike the other two defendants, Wilkerson remains free on $25,000 bond until she is assigned to a facility by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and ordered to report there. Sands, a veteran judge who went on senior status since getting assigned to this historic case in February 2013, still has a few other decisions to make involving the PCA criminal litigation. He stated that Stewart and Michael Parnell still must be ordered to pay restitution to both individual and corporate victims under the Mandatory Victims’ Restitution Act. “In pronouncing the Defendant’s sentences, the Court deferred its pronouncement of restitution orders to Defendants Stewart and Michael Parnell because the Court has received quite a bit of information regarding restitution amounts, and the Court is not satisfied that it can make a reasonable calculation of the total restitution amounts based on this information,” he noted. The court has 90 days after sentencing to issue a restitution order. The prosecution was directed to submit “additional materials and calculations” to the U.S. Probation office by Oct. 23, and Sands asked that office to report back to the court by Nov. 13. That report is to include “total restitution amounts for all known victims, including corporate and third-party (such as insurance providers) victims, and a proposed payment schedule.” The parties must notify the court by Nov. 20 if another hearing is required. Samuel Lightsey and Daniel Kilgore, the two PCA criminal defendants who entered into plea bargains with the government in exchange for their truthful testimony at trial, are scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 1. Lightsey’s deal caps his prison time at six years. He was the PCA plant manager at Blakely, GA. Kilgore’s plea bargain limits his sentence to 12 years. He was PCA’s operations manager at Blakely. The two men were on the witness stand for about 10 days of last year’s 35-day trial and are credited with the detailed construction of the government’s case against the other three defendants.
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