The former CEO of the company whose tainted peanut butter was linked to nine deaths and hundreds of illnesses was sentenced to 28 years in prison by a federal judge in Georgia yesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Stewart Parnell, 61, had been found guilty of more than 70 felony counts for his role in the 2008-09 salmonella outbreak. A jury concluded that he knowingly directed the shipment of tainted product. Parnell's brother Michael, 56, also an executive at the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America, got a 20-year sentence. A third ex-manager, Mary Wilkerson, was sentenced to five years in prison and two years on probation. All three plan to appeal.
U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands said the defendants broke the trust society places in food company executives to assure the public is safe. “There's nothing wrong with trying to be a successful businessman,” Sands said. “What troubles this court was the knowledge there was a danger … that there was salmonella and it was shipped out of that plant.” Stewart Parnell said before the sentence was announced: “This has been a seven-year nightmare for me and my family. I'm truly, truly sorry for what's happened.” The judge heard from relatives of people who died or were sickened by product from Virginia-based PCA's plant in Blakely, Ga. “I will hold my breath no longer, just ship them to jail,” said Jeff Almer, whose mother, Shirley, died.