In Ga. courtroom, victims seek life sentence for executive who shipped tainted …

21 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Peanut company exec in salmonella case could get life term.

ALBANY, Ga. Former peanut company executive Stewart Parnell faces a potential sentence of life behind bars Monday for his 2014 conviction on crimes behind a salmonella outbreak blamed for killing nine and sickening hundreds.ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — A former peanut executive convicted of shipping tainted food and faking lab tests for contaminants could be sent to prison for life when he’s sentenced by a federal judge.

The 61-year-old former head of Peanut Corporation of America was scheduled to be sentenced in Georgia federal court with his brother and a former manager at the defunct company. Parnell was convicted Sept. 19, 2014, of knowingly shipping salmonella-tainted peanut butter from his plant in Blakely, Ga., to Kellogg’s and other customers who used it in products from packaged crackers to pet food. A federal jury convicted Parnell last September on 71 criminal counts, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice and introduction of adulterated food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nine people who ate tainted peanut butter died during the outbreak in 2008 and 2009, though it couldn’t say for sure salmonella caused each death. Other peanut batches were never tested, but nonetheless were shipped with fake lab records saying salmonella screenings were negative, prosecutors charged.

The US Probation Office, which prepares pre-sentencing reports to help guide federal judges, recommended the stiff sentence based on the number of illnesses as well as estimates that the outbreak, which triggered one of the largest food recalls in US history, cost Parnell’s corporate customers $144 million. It’s been six years of utter hell.’’ Attorneys in the case say voluminous testimony from victims seeking stiff sentences and defendants’ relatives asking for leniency could push the sentencing proceedings into a second day Tuesday.

Even food-safety attorney Bill Marler, who represented many families of victims in the salmonella outbreak, has said life imprisonment would be ‘‘unprecedented.’’ Whatever punishment he receives, Parnell appears to be preparing for a long stay in prison. In April, Parnell and his wife put the Lynchburg, Va., home they have owned since 1983 on the market for $699,000. ‘‘Stewart has been punished — he’s lost everything he’s ever built, he’s unemployable, and he can’t provide for his family,’’ said Ken Hodges, one of Parnell’s defense attorneys. ‘‘I am sorry that people got sick from his peanut butter and died from his peanut butter. Defense attorney Ken Hodges characterized the potential life sentence for Stewart Parnell as “absurd” during a July telephone interview with USA TODAY.

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