A decade after his indictment and a year after United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff denied his petition for early release, one-time peanut butter mogul Stewart Parnell still has one more card to play.
Parnell, 68, has 15 years to run on his sentence imposed after a 2014 jury conviction for numerous federal felonies associated with the deadly 2008-09 multistate Salmonella outbreak traced to his Peanut Corporation of America peanut processing facility in Blakely, GA. He is serving his time at the federal correctional facility at Hazelton, WV.
Parnell begins this year with a new appeal of his Habeas corpus petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th U.S. Circuit in Atlanta. A Habeas petition claims unlawful detention or imprisonment because of constitutional infractions. It can open cell doors,
After two years in the Georgia Middle District, senior Federal Judge W. Louis Sands upheld Langstaff’s denial of Parnell’s Haberous petition, and his attorney appealed the issue to the 11th Circuit.
“Stewart Parnell appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit from the September 23, 2022, order denying his motion under 28 U.S.C. §2255 (Doc 803) and the judgment entered on the same date, ” Savannah attorney Amy Copeland informed the appellate court on Nov. 17, 2022.
Sands’ order of last Sept. 23 is the subject of the appeal, which so far has only produced administrative filings with the Atlanta court.
Judge Langstaff recommended denial of both claims asserted by Parnell: (1) trial counsel’s ineffective assistance by failure to move for a change of venue and failure to move to strike jurors for cause who knew or heard about allegations of deaths resulting from the salmonella outbreak; and (2) these two failures were said to constitute “structural error. ”
If no timely objection is filed or a determination is not objected to, the Court reviews the Recommendation for clear error. Here, Parnell has timely objected to Judge Langstaff’s Recommendation.
Parnell began the current Habeous corpous proceeds on Sept. 6, 2019, with a Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging (1) ineffective assistance of his trial counsel because counsel failed to move to change the venue and failed to strike a juror for cause and (2) these two errors constituted structural error.
That same day, the petitioner also filed a Motion for Evidentiary Hearing on 28 U.S.C. § 2255 Motion (“§ 2255 Motion Evidentiary Hearing”) In May 2021, Judge Langstaff held a two-day evidentiary hearing on Parnell’s ’s § 2255 Motion.
Parnell, who was the chief executive of PCA before it went bankrupt, was indicted on Feb. 15, 2013, with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud; conspiracy to introduce into interstate commerce adulterated and misbranded food; introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead; interstate shipments fraud; mail fraud; wire fraud; and obstruction of justice.
After a 34-day trial, the jury found him guilty on all counts, except one count of wire fraud. On Oct. 6, 2014, Parnell filed a post-trial “Motion for New Trial,” alleging that juror misconduct prejudiced his right to a fair trial.
Judge Sands immediately sealed the proceedings as well as filings related to the allegations and held two hearings. The first hearing was on Oct. 23, 2014, and the court only called on the juror at issue to gather information and details on allegations of misconduct.
The second hearing was on Nov. 12, 2014, and the court called on all jurors, including alternates. Based on the two hearings, the court ultimately found that there was no jury misconduct or bias and denied Parnell’s Motion for New Trial.
Parnell was sentenced on Sept. 21, 2015, to 336 months imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. The judgment was amended on April 6, 2016, so that defendants would not have to pay restitution. A few weeks later, on October 1, 2015, Petitioner appealed his conviction. In January 2018, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
The Magistrate Judge has also issued a report in the Habeas corpus petition for Michael Parnell, but Judge Sands has not ruled on that one. Michael Parnell is Stweart’s brother and was a peanut broker involving PCA. The 64-year old was also found guilty of numerous federal felonies. He is eight years from release from the federal prison at Fort Dix,NJ.
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