Within a few days of one another in 2019, brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell filed separate 2255 Motions for release from their convictions and sentences, which were handed down in relation to their roles in a nationwide outbreak traced to peanut butter products. Ever since these Habeas Corpus motions alleging violations of constitutional rights have been on parallel tracks. 

Until now.

Elliott M. Harding, attorney for Michael Parnell, has filed a motion asking to consolidate his client’s case with Stewart Parnell’s for oral argument.

Stewart Parnell v. United States is scheduled for oral arguments in September before a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta.  

Harding, an attorney from Charlottesville, VA, said the motion for consolidation is “without  objection from opposing counsel or counsel for Mr. Stewart Parnell.”

The motion also asks for a “certificate or appealability” from the District Court’s final judgment, which adopted a Report and Recommendation but denied his 2255 petition. 

In May, the appellate court scheduled Stewart Parnell’s case to “Calendar 23” for oral arguments on Sept. 23, 2024.  It has not scheduled oral arguments for Michael Parnell, which is why he Is asking for the consolidation.

Harding’s motion continues: “To ensure the provision of oral arguments on the merits for Mr. Michael Parnell, and to eliminate the prospect of these materially similar cases being considered  by alternative panels and potentially alternative outcomes  on the merit, all parties agree that it is in the interest of justice and judicial economy from Mr. Michael Parnell  to receive oral argument, and for such argument to be consolidated with Mr. Stewart Parnell’s pending appeal.”

Harding asks for “the opportunity to make a full oral presentation” for Michael Parnell, which will be in addition to the one for Stewart Parnell, “should the Court be willing to consolidate these matters.”  What he is seeking is 15 minutes for each brother’s cases to be argued before the appellate judges.

Before this, the closest the Parnell brothers came to consolidating their 2255 Motions came in 2021 when the Middle District of Georgia held back-to-back evidentiary hearings for them in the same Albany, GA, federal courtroom where they were convicted by a jury in 2014.  The two federal inmates were able to be present for those hearings.

Stewart Parnell, 70, once the top executive of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), and Michael Parnell, 65, who was a peanut broker at PCA, are inmates at the federal low-security lock-up near Durham, NC, known as Butner.

Jury prejudice and ineffective assistance by legal counsel are likely issues for oral argument.

In 2008-09, PCA’s Georgia peanut processing plant was the source of a multi-state Salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands and resulted in numerous deaths. PCA peanut butter and paste subsequently required the recall of thousands of products.

Subsequently, a four-year investigation led by the FBI resulted in criminal indictments against several PCA executives and managers, with the most charges falling on the Parnells. 

An Albany, GA, jury found the brothers guilty on most of the 68 felony counts with which they were charged on Feb. 15, 2013.  Stewart Parnell was convicted of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, the sale of misbranded food, and the introduction of adulterated food into interstate commerce.

Stewart Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison. Michael Parnell got a 20-year sentence. His lesser amount was because of several counts where he was found not guilty.

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