Almost two years after they submitted motions to vacate, set aside, or correct their sentences, Stewart and Michael Parnell are coming to the end of the process.
The court activity is in relation to a nationwide Salmonella outbreak involving peanut products that were linked to the brothers.
Federal Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff has set Sept. 3, as the deadline for attorneys for both Stewart Parnell and Michael Parnell to file their post-hearing briefs with the Middle District of the Federal Court in Albany, GA.
Government reply briefs are then due for Stewart Parnell on Oct. 8, and for Michael Parnell on Oct. 15.
Langstaff’s new scheduling orders came after Stewart Parnell’s attorneys, Amy Levin Weil and Amy Lee Copeland, on Aug. 10, joined with Department of Justice attorney Speare I. Hodges in asking for more time.
The magistrate had tied the deadline for the petitioner’s briefs to 30 days after hearing transcripts were complete and available, Aug. 12.
“Due to the complexity of the issues, Mr. Parnell requires additional time to prepare his brief,” Weil and Copeland said. “The government has consented to an extension of time for filing Mr. Parnell’s brief and advised that it would join a proposed order for an extension for both Mr. Parnell and the government to extend the due dates. . .”
On Aug. 11, Hodges joined with Michael Parnell’s attorneys Elliot M. Harding and William J. Dinkin in making the same request for more time because of “the complexity of the issues.”
The federal post-conviction motions were filed separately by Stewart Parnell and Michael Parnell in late 2019.
Langstaff conducted evidentiary hearings on the motions during the last week of May.
Federal marshals made each of the Parnells available for their hearing. They were wearing prison jumpsuits, with their legs and arms chained.
During the May hearings the magistrate heard testimony from the defense attorneys who represented the Parnells at the 2014 jury trial that convicted them of felony food safety violations.
Both of the pending 2255 Motions claim the Parnells received ineffective assistance of counsel for their jury trial, violating their Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. They say ineffective trial counsel failed to seek a change of venue for the trial and failed to block corrupted jurors from serving.
Each of the former defense attorneys put their spin on the Parnell trial, but none seemed completely satisfied with how it went.
Federal prisoners who’ve been convicted and denied in the appeal of a conviction are eligible to file a 2255 Motion to vacate or reduce their sentence. The post-conviction motion must be made in the jurisdiction where the conviction and sentence occurred.
At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearings on the motions, Langstaff said when all the parties have turned in their written arguments, he will write a recommendation to the Middle District Court. It’s unclear whether his recommendation goes to the court or back to the trial judge, Willie Louis Sands.
Since presiding over the 2014 trial, Judge Sands has transitioned to retired or “senior” status for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.
In late 2008, state health departments and the federal Centers for Disease Control began investigating a nationwide Salmonella outbreak. In January 2009, that outbreak was traced to products produced by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) at Blakely, GA.
PCA halted production at Blakely and initiated a recall of its peanut products. Stewart Parnell was PCA’s chief executive and Michael Parnell was a peanut broker, buying peanut paste from PCA and delivering the product in one of two tanker trucks to Kellogg’s.
PCA was shortly bankrupt and out of business. The Parnell brothers and three other former PCA executives were subjects of federal felony indictments in 2013. A jury trial in 2014 convicted the brothers of multiple federal felony counts. In 2015, Sands sentenced Stewart Panell to 28 years in federal prison, and Michael Parnell to 20 years.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)