Even before their sentencing hearing began today, Stewart and Michael Parnell both filed motions for their release while their cases are appealed to the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The Parnell brothers, along with former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson, are awaiting sentencing today in federal court in Albany, GA. The court has been hearing character witnesses for the defendants and will also hear statements from the victims of the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak linked to contaminated PCA products which a jury found were knowingly shipped. But even if they get lengthy prison terms, the Parnells say they should remain free while legal issues they are raising are taken up in Atlanta.

The C.B. King federal courthouse in Albany, GA.
The motions state that the Parnells may be released pending appeal if there is convincing evidence that they are unlikely to flee or pose a danger to any other person, the appeal is not for the purpose of delay, if the appeal concerns a question of law or fact, and if a successful appeal will likely result in the new trial on all counts. After their jury convictions in Sept. 2014, Stewart Parnell has been free on a fully secured $150,000 bond and Michael Parnell was released post-trial on a fully secured $150,000 bond. Prior to their convictions, the bonds were unsecured. Both motions argue that the brothers are not flight risks and that neither poses any danger to the community. In filing the motions, defense attorneys shared at least some of their grounds for appeal, including that the trial court today was allowing “personal injury evidence without opportunity for cross examination of experts … .” They will also challenge the government’s introduction of testing reports and records without giving the defense the opportunity to cross-examine the individuals who conducted the tests, the court’s denial of a motion for a new trial over jury considerations, and juror dishonesty. Michael Parnell’s defense attorney, Edward Tolley, argues that evidence was insufficient that his client knew about the shipment of misbranded food or that he participated in a conspiracy. In addition, Tolley will take arguments to the appeals court that the government’s closing arguments were prejudicial and the fraud loss amounts and victim evidence were “unverified and never proven at trial.” Further, Tolley notes that this criminal prosecution under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is a landmark case for the food industry and that the lack of direct precedent raises substantial questions of law and fact. Or, as Stewart Parnell’s attorney, Justin M. Lugar, put it: “It is important to first note that the standard is not whether Stewart Parnell is likely to succeed on the merits, but rather, whether his appeal poses a ‘substantial question of law or fact’ that is likely to lead to a reversal or new trial if decided favorably to the defendant. United States v. Giancola, 754 F.2d 898, 901 (11th Cir. 1985).”

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