The federal Department of Justice (DOJ) wants the federal court for the Middle District of Georgia to deny former peanut broker Michael Parnell’s petition to vacate, set aside, or correct a prison sentence that could keep him behind bars for the next decade.
The filing on Oct. 22 by DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch is the final submission in a process that has seen Micahel Parnell, 62, and his brother Stewart, 67, both run the Motion 2255 process that permits federal inmates to challenge their sentences on constitutional grounds. Their petitions — both claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsels, were taken seriously enough for the U.S. Magistrate Judge to conduct public hearings last May about the issues that were raised.
That hearing was a reunion of sorts for the trial lawyers who represented the Parnell brothers during their 2014 jury trial. Edward D. Tolley and Devin H. Smith, who represented Michael Parnell, and Kenneth B. Hodges and Thomas J. Bondurant, who were Stewart Parnell’s trial attorneys testified in May at the Albany, GA, federal courthouse.
In his opposition to Michael Parnell’s petition, the DOJ’s Speare I. Hodges suggested that for ineffective counsel to occur requires both a showing of a deficiency and prejudice that can not be explained away by “reasonable professional judgment.”
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.
In both Motion 2255 proceedings, decisions the trial lawyers made in 2014 about venue and jury selections were raised in both the public hearings and written arguments.
The hearing record and all written arguments now go to the Magistrate Judge Thomas Q. Langstaff who has made recommendations to the Middle District Court, where the jury trial and sentencing occurred. Langstazff made several procedural rulings during the PCA criminal prosecution. The trial judge was W. Louis Sands, who is on “senior status” with the Middle District.
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