Parnell brothers plan to file objections to magistrate’s denial recommendation

Brothers Stewart Parnell, 67, and Michael Parnell, 63, will each be filing objections to the federal habeas corpus recommendations against them in relation to food safety felonies involving the deadly 2008-09 multistate Salmonella outbreak associated with Peanut Corporation of America .

And Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff has granted both brothers 14 additional days to file objections to his recommendation for denial of their habeas corpus petitions brought under Section 2255.

In the two decisions, running about 40-pages each, the magistrate judge came 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.”

Department of Justice attorneys, however,  did not have any objections to granting the Parnells more time to file objections.

Elliot M. Harding, the Charlottesville, VA, attorney representing Michael Parnell, filed an extension for more time, saying, “Due to the complexity of the issues, Mr. Parnell requires additional time to prepare his objections and discuss the matters; with his counsel.”

In the extension request, Harding said the recommendation “contains a very lengthy analysis including content from a multiweek jury trial, subsequent proceedings at sentencing and the court’s investigation into outside influences on jurors, and from the multiple-day evidentiary hearing that took place in this matter in May of 2021.”

Amy Lee Copeland, representing Stewart Parnell, also asked for an extension. Langstaff filed his recommendations to deny the Section 2255 petitions on April 7. The original deadline for objections was April 21, but the new deadlines are May 5 and 6.

The Parnell brothers filed Section 2255 petitions in 2019, making motions to vacate their sentences and asking for evidentiary hearings.

A 2014 federal jury trial found both men guilty of food safety felonies involving the 2008-09 multistate Salmonella outbreak associated with Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) in Blakely, GA.

They were sentenced to federal prison terms in 2015, 28 years for Stewart and 20 years for Michael. On appeal, their convictions and sentences were upheld.

In their federal habeas corpus petition, the Parnells each claimed they were victims of ineffective assistance of counsel during their 2014 jury trial.

Section 2255 permits the release of any federal prisoner if their legal or Constitutional rights are violated. Denial of effective counsel might be such a violation. A move to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence can follow.

Objections are part of the hand-off from the magistrate, who handles what the court calls “non-dispositive” matters to the deciding district court judge.  For these cases,  when the hand-off occurs, it will be Judge Willie Louis Sands that will ultimately decide. The 73-year-old Sands was the trial judge in PCA criminal case.   He has senior status in the Middle District of of the U.S. District Court in Georgia.

Once the district judge signs off on a final order, no appeal is possible until the judge has also issued a “certificate of appealability,” also know as a COA.

Unless successful with their 2255 Motions, Stewart Parnell has 17 years left to serve and Michael has 10. Stewart is currently serving his time at a federal prison in West Virginia and Michael is being held at Fort Dix, NJ.

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