For the first time since the U.S. Bureau of Prisons became responsible for their imprisonment, brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell are together.

The 69-year-old Stewart and the 65-year-old Michael are housed in the low-security prison at Butner, NC. Both men are serving lengthy sentences for their part in causing a 46-state salmonella outbreak traced to peanut butter products that caused illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Michael’s release date is 2031, and Stewart’s is 2038.

Since 2019, both have pursued Motion 2255 filings, the federal Habeas Corpus process that allows federal prisoners to challenge their convictions and sentences on constitutional grounds.

In that process, the last brief filed by the government came in a few days ago, responding to Michael Parnell. “The government does not request oral argument because the facts and arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and the record.” As stated by Stuart E. Walker, the assistant U.S. attorney, an oral argument is unlikely to aid the court’s decisional process significantly.

Walker said the district court correctly denied Parnell’s § 2255 motion because his counsel provided effective representation, and he suffered no prejudice.

Parnell argued that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to the practical assistance of counsel when his counsel did not move to transfer the venue out of the Albany Division of the Middle District of Georgia. He says that pretrial publicity about the PCA investigation presumptively biased all members of the jury venire—even though the district court found, as a fact, that the 12 jurors who decided his case were impartial

Walker says the appeal  poses two questions:

1. Did the district court err in determining that Parnell could not establish a presumption of jury prejudice based on adverse pretrial publicity under Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358 (2010)?

2. Does a showing of presumed jury prejudice, under Skilling, operate to establish both prongs of an ineffective assistance of counsel? Claim, based on counsel’s failure to move for a venue change?

On Jan. 10, noting that it had “previously granted an appeal on the same issues for Parnell’s codefendant [Stewart],” the appeal was  limited to Parnell’s claim that his counsel rendered ineffective assistance by electing not to move for a change of venue.

The District Court denial followed a two-day hearing that was held in 2021.

Over Parnell’s objection, the district court adopted the findings of fact and conclusions of law and denied Parnell’s motion. 

The Stewart Parnell brief and the government’s reply were previously submitted along with the Michael Parnell brief.   With the government’s reply brief to Michael, the case is before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

There’s been no word on whether there will be any oral arguments.

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