Parnell attorneys preparing their written arguments for vacating sentences

Stewart Parnell, 67, and Michael Parnell, 62, have returned to their low and medium secure lockups after appearing for their motion hearings last month at the C.B. King Courthouse in Albany, GA.

Transcripts of those proceedings also became available to the parties, kicking off the written arguments for U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff. Ultimately, Langstaff will decide whether the federal Middle District Court for Georgia will vacate part or all of the sentences the Parnells are serving.

Stewart Parnell, former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executive, has 18 years remaining on his prison sentence, and his peanut broker brother, Michael Parnell, has about 11 years remaining. They were convicted in 2014 by a jury for felony food safety violations in the deadly 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak linked to a PCA facility in Blakely, GA.

The Parnell brothers two years ago filed Motion 2255 petitions to vacate their sentences because of errors they claim were made by their trial attorneys failing to obtain a fair trial.

About two weeks after the oral arguments in Albany during the final week of May, the court released the transcript to the parties. That should mean the first written arguments will drop shortly.

May’s oral arguments left one hang-over issue involving the Stewart Parnell petition. Judge Langstaff did not allow jury consultant Denise de La Rue to testify as an expert witness for Stewart Parnell in May but rather had her provide a written report. She complied with that request on June 8.

The government filed on June 22, asking the judge to exclude the report. Langstaff’s deadline for the parties to identify witnesses was May 3, and Stewart Parnell waited until May 16, 2021, “to seek permission to add the expert’s testimony, without filing any notice regarding this witnesses expected testimony.”

He found her report “consists primarily of her conjecture as to other options that counsel could have employed regarding the venue and voir dire issues, basically speculating that if further analysis or questioning had been done and had shown bias.”

“Counsel could have filed motions to change the venue and to strike certain jurors, he added. “These are the basic arguments already put forth by the petitioner.”

Langstaff says there is ” no indication that petitioner’s expert has ever served as trial counsel in a jury trial, ever conducted voir dire, ever exercised either a peremptory challenge or a challenge for cause, ever participated in or observed a jury trial in the Albany Division of the Middle District of Georgia, ever participated in or observed a jury trial conducted by the trial judge in this case, or that she has any experience in striking a jury in any of the counties in Southwest Georgia from which this venire originated.

“It is clear that petitioner’s expert was not in the courtroom during any part of the jury selection process in this case, and was thus deprived of observing any non-verbal conduct on the part of the participants or being able to gauge the subtleties and nuances that are part of the selection of any jury.”

Next up, the Parnells have 30 days after they have access to the transcript of the evidentiary hearing to brief their support of their claims. The government will then have 21 days to respond.

Meanwhile, Stewart Parnell will wait this out while incarcerated at West Virginia’s Hazelton federal prison. Michael Parnell is a resident of the Fort Dix, NJ, federal prison.

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