ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The daughters of a peanut executive sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for his role in a deadly salmonella outbreak spoke publicly for the first time about his involvement in the largest food recall in U.S. history.
Stewart Parnell, the former CEO of Peanut Company of America (PCA), walked out of court Monday afternoon during a recess for the last time as a free man.
He was sentenced to federal prison and immediately taken into custody.
"There's really not words to describe actually how we have felt," said one of Parnell's daughters, Grey Adams.
The family from Virginia was at the center of a federal investigation since early 2009.
FBI investigators raided PCA plant in Blakely, Georgia after linking it to a nationwide salmonella outbreak.
"We were trying to figure out what had happened. How could we make it better, make everything right? And it's like everyone around us knew what was happening," said Adams.
But it was too late. Hundreds had fallen ill.
Shortly after, Stewart Parnell was testifying before Congress.
"Since then it's just been a travesty how it's taken the course," said Adams.
A 76-count indictment followed four years later and then a lengthy criminal trial that resulted in guilty verdicts on nearly all counts for Parnell, his food broker brother Michael Parnell, and plant Quality Assurance Manager Mary Wilkerson.
Many victims expressed resentment that Parnell never apologized over 7 years. But his daughters insisted that happened because of pressure to keep quiet during the investigation.
"I can tell you the minute my dad knew that his plant was the cause of anything, he would have walked door to door to every single one of those people and apologized," said Katie Parnell Robinson.
"We had written several apologies that we wanted to put out and the PR, and the attorneys at that time, said, 'No. We can't do that,'" said Adams.
As the reality of the 28-year sentence set in, the family reflected on the memories they have as they maintain their commitment to fighting for their father.
"It's just unreal that he's also the person that's sitting on the other side of the bar.. when you see him in orange behind glass."
"We have strong faith in God. I firmly believe that God is not finished with my dad yet. He has a plan for him," said Adams.
"Just if anybody, if even one person takes a second to think, 'maybe there's more to the story.' It's all worth it," said Robinson.
Both Robinson and Adams remain hopeful that that their father will either get a new trial or have his sentence reduced.
Meanwhile, a lawyer for Stewart Parnell said they plan to file an appeal as soon as possible.
The defense believes jurors discussed the 9 deaths linked to the outbreak while deliberating, even though Parnell was not charged in connection to those deaths and both sides agreed not to mention the deaths during the trial.
"We believe we have a viable chance to have this reversed and have a new trial," said attorney Ken Hodges. "My hope is that we can even have a change of venue granted and have it somewhere other than here."
Lawyers for Michael Parnell also plan to appeal.
A lawyer for Mary Wilkerson did not respond on whether they plan to appeal.