Parnell brothers fail to persuade magistrate that their trial lawyers were ineffective
The U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Middle District of Georgia recommends denial of motions to release brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell from federal custody. Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff quietly filed decisions on April 7 after taking both matters under advisement this past October.
The Parnells, convicted in a 2014 jury trial of food safety felonies related to the 2008-09 deadly Salmonella outbreak associated with the Peanut Corporation of America, are now nearly out of options for early release.
In the two decisions, running about 40-pages each, the judge comes to very similar conclusions. For the Stewart Parnell Motion 2255, he makes this conclusion:
“Petitioner has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence trial counsel’s ineffective assistance. WHEREFORE, it is recommended that Petitioner Stewart Parnell’s Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 be DENIED.”
And his conclusion for Michael Parnell’s Motion 2255:
“Petitioner has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence trial counsel’s ineffective assistance. WHEREFORE, it is recommended that Petitioner Michael Parnell’s Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 be DENIED.”
The magistrate’s ruling says the two inmates have a 14-day period to file written objections, Where objectives are made, they will be decided by Louis Sands, the trial judge. “Recommendation may be reviewed by the District Judge for clear error,” according to the magistrate’s ruling.
If the brothers do not file timely objections, the right to challenge on appeal is waived. “In the absence of a proper objection, however, the court may review on appeal for plain error if necessary in the interests of justice.”
The bottom line: The judge “finds no substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.”
Further, it “is recommended that the court deny a certificate of appealability in its Final Order. If the petitioner files an objection to this recommendation, he may include therein any arguments he wishes to make regarding a certificate of appealability.
Magistrate Langstaff found the petitions filed by the Parnells sufficient to require public hearings, which were in May 2021. The brothers were returned by federal marshals to the federal courthouse in Albany, GA where the jury trial occurred.
The Parnell brothers were convicted by a Middle District jury in 2014 of multiple federal felonies charged after a nearly five-year investigation into the 2008-09 national Salmonella outbreak involving the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) peanut processing plant in Blakely, GA. At the time of the outbreak, Stewart Parnell was PCA’s chief executive and Michael was a peanut broker.
Stewart was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison, and Michel to 20 years. They were the harshest criminal sentences ever handed down for food safety violations. Stewart’s release date, according to the Bureau of Prisons, is July 26, 2039. Michael is scheduled to get out on Sept.30, 2032.
Stewart is currently held at the Hazelton federal prison in West Virginia, and Michael is in custody at Fort Dix, NJ.
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