FOOD SAFETY: DOJ asks federal judge to reject Stewart Parnell’s motion for early release

dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News

dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News

FOOD SAFETY:

The Department of Justice considers the former chief executive officer of Peanut Corporation of America a keeper.

The government counsel requests that the Middle District Court of the U.S. District Court, Georgia deny Stewart Parnell’s motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence. A denial means Stewart Parnell, 67, likely will be kept in federal prison for an additional 18 years or until he is 85-years old. He is currently held in the Hazelton federal jail in Bruceton Mills (WV).

The DOJ Consumer Protection Branch filed its response Oct. 8 to Parnell’s post-hearing brief, continuing its vigorous opposition to the former peanut executive’s 2255 Motion for early release.

“Petitioner failed to meet his burden,” Speare I. Hodges, DOJ trial attorney, wrote in the reply brief. “The petitioner’s ineffective assistance claim is not supported by the lengthy trial record or more recent testimony of his trial counsel and other witnesses.” The court should deny petitioner’s motion .”

Hodges provided this brief procedural history :”

“On Sept. 19, 2014, following a seven-week trial, the jury found petitioner guilty for his role in a scheme to ship peanut products that tested positive for salmonella or otherwise were produced under insanitary conditions. ECF 285.
On Oct.6, 2014, petitioner filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that juror misconduct prejudiced his right to a fair trial. ECF 308. As relevant to this case, petitioner alleged that several jurors conducted outside research, jury members discussed salmonella-related deaths allegedly caused by his company, and one particular juror, Juror 34, was biased. The trial court called in each selected juror to individual questioning. There were two hearings. ECF 397 at 13-14. The court ultimately found “no indication that any juror concealed harbored bias[,]” that Juror 34 was in fact “biased” toward petitioner’s co-defendant, and that any juror knowledge of deaths was not highly prejudicial given the “overwhelming” evidence against the petitioner presented at trial.
On Sept. 30, 2015, the district court sentenced petitioner to a total term of imprisonment of 336 months (28 years). ECF 498. The petitioner appealed his conviction, sentence and jury misconduct issue. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed his conviction and sentence on June 20, 2018. United States v. Parnell
On Sept. 6, 2019, Parnell then filed the instant petition along with a motion for an evidentiary hearing. ECFs 667-68. The court held an evidentiary hearing on May 24-25, 2021, hearing testimony from petitioner’s four former trial counsel, Kenneth Bryant Hodges, Thomas J. Bondurant, Scott Austin, and Justin Lugar; a local peanut broker, James Thomas Strother; and trial counsel for petitioner’s co-defendant, Ed Tolley.”

The DOJ brief states that in order to prevail on a claim for effective counsel, a defendant must prove that counsel’s representation was defective and that the deficient representation was prejudicial. The petition must show that reasonable professional acts and omissions were not

.

“The petitioner claims that his trial counsel made two mistakes that denied him his Sixth Amendment rights: (1) “failing the Court to change the venue” and (2) “failing to strike for cause venirepersons, who heard that salmonella outbreak deaths were being attributed to it,” Hodges wrote. “But, the record doesn’t support petitioner’s claims that his trial counsel’s actions were errors. Nor does it meet Strickland’s requirement that they show that his trial result would have been different. The petitioner’s motion should therefore be denied

Hodges in his brief discredits Parneel’s argument that defendants couldn’t get a fair trial before a jury in Albany, GA. He writes ;

“Petitioner failed to show his counsel rendered ineffective assistance because accepting venue in the Albany Division did not prejudice him and was objectively reasonable.

Venue transfer is governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 21, which instructs that a “court must transfer the proceeding . . . Fed. R. Crim. P. 21(a). Petitioner claims that his trial counsel failed to assist him in moving for a transfer. He would have had to meet the “extremely heavy” burden of proving the venue was presumptively biased. See Coleman v. Kemp

Petitioner failed to show he would have prevailed on a motion to change venue.

Petitioner’s post-hearing brief alleges no new facts in support of his claim that his trial counsel would have met the demanding legal standard to demonstrate presumed prejudice. This burden is “extremely heavy,” so presumed prejudice is not applicable to him and is reserved for extreme situations .”

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In the U.S. v. Campa, the Supreme Court has pointed to several factors that may constitute presumed prejudice: (1) the size and characteristics of the community in which the crime occurred; (2) whether news contained blatantly prejudicial information that jurors “could not reasonably be expected to shut from sight”; (3) whether “the decibel level of media attention” did not diminish during the run-up to the trial, and (4) whether “the jury’s verdict did not undermine in any way the supposition of juror bias.” Skilling v. the United States, 561 U.S. 358, 380-85 (2010). Even though these facts may support the notion of prejudice, the Supreme Court rebuts the assertion that “the district court’s careful, thorough voir dire, in addition to its use prophylactic measures, ensured that defendant received an impartial trial .”

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The government’s 22-page brief goes on to argue that the media climate in the Albany, GA, area leading up to the 2014 jury trial was “predominantly factual.” And the South Georgia peanut industry saw the impacts of the Salmonella outbreak as temporary. The trial was not held until five years after the outbreak.

The government also argues that the verdict “undermines any suggestion of jury bias” because all three defendants who appeared at trial were acquitted on at least one count. Hodges stated that it would be absurd to assume that jurors had reserved their biases for petitioner.

Post hearing briefs and in-person hearing transcripts are all sent to Magistrate Thomas Q. Langstaff who makes recommendations to Middle District Court.

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