Stewart Parnell: CEO Gets 28 Years For Role In Fatal Salmonella Outbreak

Nearly a decade after he helped cause a fatal salmonella outbreak, Stewart Parnell will finally answer for his role in the tragedy. The Associated Press reports the former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) CEO was successfully convicted in U.S. District Court back in 2014. In actuality, the journey for justice spans several years.

It started in 2009, after investigators successfully traced salmonella contamination to a PCA plant in rural southwestern Georgia. There, they found “a leaky roof, roaches, and evidence of rodents.” These all pointed to the likely cause of the fatal poisonings.

What preceded the investigation was a deadly outbreak in 2008 and 2009 that took the lives of nine people. Nearly 700 others were made seriously ill. The Associated Press said the poisonings also spawned one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.

PCA owner Stewart Parnell, food broker Michael Parnell, and the plant’s quality assurance manager, Mary Wilkerson, were all eventually linked to the salmonella outbreak. In 2014, a federal jury convicted the former CEO of not only knowingly selling tainted peanut butter, but of actively hiding the fact by faking lab results. Stewart’s two co-defendants were also convicted.

FOX59 reports that Wilkerson received a five-year sentence, while Parnell’s brother, Michael, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Stewart Parnell’s 28-year sentence is reported as the harshest known penalty ever given a corporate executive in relation to a food poisoning outbreak.

Parnell was publicly silent for years. He refused to testify at a congressional hearing or to take the witness stand during his trial. However on Monday, after being led into court by U.S. Marshals, Parnell at last had something to say about the case.

“All I can do is come before you and ask for forgiveness from you and the people back here. I’m truly sorry for what happened.”

The apology did little to deter District Court Judge W. Louis Sands from handing down a remarkably stiff punishment. Bill Marler, an attorney who specializes in food-safety cases, considers the outcome a “victory for consumers.” Sadly, it cannot be called a real victory for the victims of Stewart Parnell and his company.

Despite the harshness of the punishments handed down, Parnell and his co-defendants were never held criminally accountable for the deaths their actions caused. Instead, Stewart and the others were convicted of “defrauding corporate customers.” Perhaps the only comfort, if there’s any to be had, is in knowing that at age 61, Stewart Parnell could spend the rest of his life in jail.

[Photo by Mark Wilson / Getty Images]