The U.S. Supreme Court denied peanut broker Michael Parnell’s petition for writ of certiorari Tuesday. That means the high court won’t be reviewing any part of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) criminal convictions.
Previously, the Supreme Court also denied a writ of certiorari for Mary Wilkerson, the one-time quality assurance manager at the now-defunct PCA.
Parnell asked the justices to review three questions, including:
- Whether the Circuit Court erred in its application of an abuse of discretion standards by affirming the District Court’s denial of Parnell’s motion for a new trial. Parnell contends the jury was impermissibly exposed to prejudiced extrinsic evidence throughout the proceedings.
- Whether the Circuit Court erred in affirming the District Court’s finding that Parnell was a manager/superior.
- Whether the Circuit Court erred in its failure to require that the government adduce specific and reliable evidence of the loss amount which results in materially prejudiced and damaged the Parnell at sentencing.
The Supreme Court does not have to have a reason for denying any petition. If the petition does not gain support from at least four of the nine Justices, it is denied. As many as 7,000 petitions are filed with the High Court for each of its terms, but it only agrees to hear 150 or fewer cases.
Parnell and Wilkerson filed individual petitions for certiorari “in forma pauperis,” meaning in the character of a pauper. It says they were able to file writs without paying any additional court fees or costs. Both sought Supreme Court review of their convictions and sentences.
With the denial of both petitions, the Supreme Court lets the Jan.23, 2018, opinion by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals stand as the final ruling in the PCA criminal case. The appellate court upheld the jury trial convictions and district court sentencing of Parnell and Wilkerson along with Stewart Parnell, PCA’s chief executive and Michael Parnell’s brother.
After a seven-week jury trial in late 2014, Stewart Parnell was convicted on 67 federal felony counts including fraud and conspiracy. Michael Parnell was found guilty on 30 counts involving the intentional shipment of contaminated peanut products. The jury found Wilkerson guilty of one count of obstruction of justice but acquitted her on a second count.
Sentencing occurred a year later. Sixty-four-year-old Stewart Parnell’s sentence is 28 years in federal prison, and his 59-year old brother Michael is to serve 20 years. Wilkerson, 45, was sentenced to five years.
PCA’s peanut processing facility in Blakely, GA was the source of a massive multi-state salmonella outbreak that occurred in late 2008 and early 2009. The government, led by the FBI, spent four years investigating the outbreak that involved 714 confirmed illnesses, nine deaths, and an estimated $144 million in economic losses before bringing charges in early 2013.
PCA manufactured peanut butter, peanut meal, and peanut paste for sale to institutions and food companies for numerous brands. The outbreak led more than 350 companies to recall more than 3,500 peanut products. The outbreak sparked a congressional hearing.
Supreme Court denial of Michael Parnell’s petition means the multi-defendant federal prosecution in the PCA criminal cases is proving successful. The government initially indicted five former PCA managers and executives, but two defendants pleaded guilty, agreed to testify for the government at trial, and were granted consideration in sentencing.
The Supreme Court denied Wilkerson’s petition for review on Oct. 9, and Michael Parnell’s on Nov. 13. Stewart Parnell did not file a petition with the Supreme Court.
Being out of court options, the PCA criminal defendants will likely serve out their terms. Wilkerson is closest to release. She will be free to leave the federal minimum security prison in Tallahassee, FL, in about 15 months on March 10, 2020.
Michael Parnell is in minimum security federal lockup in Milan, MI, near Detroit. His release date 15 years out on Feb. 17, 2033.
Stewart Parnell is at the Federal Correctional Institution at Estill, SC. It is a medium-security federal prison for male inmates. His release date is Feb. 6, 2040. He will be 86 years old.
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