On Monday, September 17, twenty-eight years - essentially a life sentence ¬- was given to 61-year old disgraced peanut executive Stewart Parnell for his role in a salmonella cover-up linked to nine deaths between 2008 and 2009. The sentence eclipses the other food safety prosecutions and related terms of imprisonment by thousands of percent, setting another Department of Justice record while simultaneously sending a message about the seriousness of knowingly contaminating America's food supply. The evidence introduced at trial made clear that Parnell was not an unattached executive who could rely on the common defense of compartmental blame. Rather, scores of emails painted a sickening picture of Parnell brazenly sacrificing safety concerns for financial gain over many years, included faking lab results.
Parnell's co-defendant, Michael Parnell (his brother) was sentenced to 20 years and Mary Wilkerson, a quality control manager received five years. The disparity in their sentences reflect the cooperative posture of defendants and what the Government believed to be their role. Parnell's attorney, Tom Bondurant, indicated that they would be filing an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and will be seeking Parnell's release.
Parnell's Difficult Road Ahead
One might think, given the white-collar'ish nature of Parnell's crime, that bail pending appeal would be an automatic, but that's not the case, especially with the troubling nucleus of operative facts. From a legal standpoint, the Bail Reform Act creates a presumption against release pending appeal. Once a defendant is convicted, the court must order detention unless it makes two findings. First, the defendant must show by clear and convincing evidence that he or she is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of any person or the community. Second, the court must find that the defendant's appeal is not for the purposes of delay and that it raises a "substantial question of law or fact" likely to result in a reversal, a new trial, a sentence with no imprisonment, or a sentence less than the total already served, including the expected length of the appeal process. 44 GEO. L.J. ANN. REV. CRIM. PROC. 398-399(2015)
Given the victim impact, lengthy sentence, and conservative Court, Parnell should prepare to enter into custody. However, former Virginia Governor McDonnell was able to avoid jail again, even after his appeal was denied, and will remain free on bail pending his writ to the Supreme Court. And while this might give Parnell a glimmer of hope, it's unlikely that Parnell will be able to crack that nut.