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The former Peanut Corporation of America owner had remained publicly silent in 2009 after authorities traced salmonella blamed for killing nine people and sickening 714 to his plant in rural southwest Georgia. He refused to testify when called before a congressional hearing, and likewise never took the witness stand during the criminal trial that led to his conviction in U.S. District Court a year ago. A judge Monday sentenced 61-year-old Steven Parnell to 28 years in prison. It’s the harshest criminal penalty ever for a U.S. producer in a food-borne illness case and a span his attorneys say might as well be a life sentence. And though Parnell escaped his maximum possible punishment — 803 years in prison, which Judge W. Louis Sands called “inappropriate” — Carter and other victims’ relatives applauded his sentence. “It should be enough to send a message to the other manufacturers that this is not going to be tolerated anymore and they had better inspect their food,” said Randy Napier, whose 80-year-old mother in Ohio was also among the nine who died.

The salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009 triggered one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history and cost Peanut Corporation’s customers — companies that used its peanut products in everything from snack crackers to pet food — an estimated $143 million.

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