What Did Stewart Parnell Do? The Peanut Corporation Of America Executive Was Handed A Long Prison Sentence

A former Peanut Corporation of America executive was basically sentenced to life in prison by a Georgia judge Monday. Since the peanut butter business isn't known for high rates of criminal activity, you might be wondering: What did Stewart Parnell do? He was convicted in 2014 on more than 70 federal charges for shipping tainted food across state lines, wire fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice related to a deadly salmonella outbreak caused by Peanut Corporation of America's products. The 61-year-old executive was sentenced to 28 years in prison for knowingly shipping peanut butter that had salmonella. It's believed to be the harshest sentence in history in a food-borne illness criminal case.

The salmonella outbreak that began in 2009 killed nine people and sickened another 714 across 46 states. Prosecutor Michael Moore told CNN that he hopes the case will send a strong message to the rest of the food industry that people will be held responsible for neglecting to contain dangerous illnesses in the U.S. Parnell faced a 803-year sentence, and his lawyer, Ken Hodges, told ABC News before Monday's hearing that a life sentence "would not serve any purpose and that we hope the judge will take into account that Stewart is a good man who never intended to hurt anyone." Parnell's brother, Michael, was also sentenced to 20 years in prison for knowingly distributing tainted peanut butter products.

In court Monday, family of those who died from the infected peanut butter asked the judge to impose a strict sentence for Parnell. Jeff Almer, whose 72-year-old mother died after eating Parnell's company's product, said in court: "I really struggled with trying to forgive this guy, because he claims no responsibility whatsoever ... We’ve gone past the point of forgiveness. A strong sentence is what he deserves."

Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety lawyer who filed a civil suit against Peanut Corporation of America, told The Washington Post that it's difficult to argue against Parnell's sentence, since the crimes were so awful. However, Parnell's case does set a new precedent for food-related crimes, which leaves unanswered questions about what will happen to food executives accused of similar crimes in the future. Marler said: "From a fairness point of view, I’m not bothered by the fact he’s going to be facing the rest of his life in prison. What bothers me is, are we going to do this to other people who are similarly situated? ... Where do you draw the line? Is 33 deaths the bar? Is three?"

Marler tweeted Monday: "This sentence is going to send a stiff, cold wind through board rooms across the U.S."