The head of a peanut processing company that was convicted of conspiracy related to a salmonella poisoning outbreak is facing an unprecedented sentence of life in prison.
Stewart Parnell, the former owner of Peanut Corporation of America, was found guilty in September in 71 counts related to covering up salmonella contamination of the company’s products.
Nine people died and 700 were sickened in the 2008-2009 outbreak.
U.S. federal prosecutors filed a brief calling for the life sentence to be issued, saying the crimes committed by Parnell fall under the federal guidelines for a life sentence.
If accepted by the judge, it would be the first time someone has been sentenced to life in prison for food-safety violations.
“It was an extraordinary verdict that could result in an extraordinary amount of time in jail for a food crime,” Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who represents victims of food-borne illnesses, including some in the Peanut Corp. case, told the Wall Street Journal.
“A lot of them are quite relieved,” Marler told USA TODAY. “These are people whose family members died from eating peanut butter, so you can understand where they may not have much sympathy for Mr. Parnell.”
Parnell’s lawyers say the recommendation is extreme.
“The truth of the matter is Stewart Parnell ate that peanut butter; he fed it to his children and fed it to his grandchildren,” Hodges told USA TODAY. “He never intended to harm anyone.”