BUTLER, Pa .– The ex-wife of Republican Senate candidate Sean Parnell testified under oath on Monday that he strangled her until she bit him to escape, that he hit their young children and that he had castigated her with obscenities and insults.
In tearful testimony, Laurie Snell told a family court judge her husband once called her a “bitch” and a “piece of shit” while pinning her to the ground. On another occasion, she said, Parnell slapped a child hard enough to leave fingerprint-like marks on the back of the child’s T-shirt. And she said he was once so angry that he knocked on a closet door with such force it hit a child’s face and left a bruise on it. She said Parnell told her child, “It was your fault.”
She also said that after a Thanksgiving trip in 2008, he briefly forced her out of their vehicle along a freeway after enraging at her, telling her to “go have an abortion.”
In a statement released by his campaign, Parnell, a decorated military veteran who served in Afghanistan and was endorsed this summer by former President Donald Trump, vigorously challenged his wife’s claims, calling a number of ‘between them of “lies” and has said he looks forward to refuting them when he presents his case next week.
“Let me say with force: I never raised my hand in anger against my wife or one of our three children,” the statement read. “What happened today in court was not justice, and it had no basis in fact or in truth.”
Yet the public sworn testimony – which took place after Parnell attempted and failed to obtain a court order terminating the proceedings to the public and ordering his wife to be gagged – seemed certain to seriously undermine his ambitions, after that he has become the likely frontrunner in a critical race for the US Senate, one of the few who could decide control of the chamber. Outgoing Republican Senator Pat Toomey is not seeking another term.
Parnell’s campaign website prominently displays photos of him smiling alongside the couple’s three school-aged children. The site also describes him as an abortion opponent who “will always vote to protect the unborn child.”
In a cramped and hot courtroom in this town north of Pittsburgh, Snell presented him as a man filled with intense rage and post-traumatic stress disorder, claiming the abuse began even before their marriage, by 2010, but got worse in 2018, the year he “started hitting children.” It was a breaking point, she said, and they broke up that year.
Once she testified, “He tried to suffocate me on a couch and I literally had to bite him” to get me free. “He was strangling me.
He got mad at her on long car trips to visit family, she said. “He would come after me and I didn’t know why.
Dressed in jeans, leather boots and a black Under Armor jacket, Parnell watched from a few feet from his wife as she testified. His expression was not visible to reporters in the room.
Monday marked the start of a three-day custody trial. Snell, who is requesting primary custody, was not subjected to cross-examination on Monday, so his account was not challenged. Parnell’s campaign noted that despite all accusations, the couple currently share custody of their children, aged 8 to 12.
Snell and two of his siblings, a sibling, testified before a judge overseeing the case on Monday. Three reporters, along with a member of Parnell’s campaign team, watched from a small bench in the back.
Parnell’s personal conduct amid the couple’s ongoing acrimonious divorce has become the most glaring issue surrounding his candidacy. He had previously faced attacks from GOP rival Jeff Bartos over temporary protection orders issued against him in 2017 and 2018, though neither became permanent and both were subsequently deleted.
But until Monday, there was little public information about Snell’s specific allegations.
In her testimony, she said that her family had become terrified of her husband.
Sometimes he would yell at her, sometimes pulling her into what she called “Sean-a-logues”. “It was just Sean and no one else got to speak,” she said.
She said she considered calling the police, but Parnell warned her not to. The family then relied on his income as a speaker and television commentator.
“He said it would ruin her image,” if she called the police, she said.
“We were all walking on eggshells,” when he returned from trips and expressed family frustration, said Snell. “The minute he walked into the house, we were petrified.”
Parnell was diagnosed with PTSD and 90% disabled, she said, after serving in Afghanistan, witnessing heavy fighting in 2006 and 2007 and being awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. He then published a book about his time in the war. His editor says he partially lectures on PTSD.
In a statement released Monday evening, Parnell accused his wife of “a number of false allegations” on the witness stand. He didn’t specify them but called them “complete fabrications; no distortions or misrepresentation – just outright lies. The truth is, I love my family and I love my children more than anything.”
He also hinted that he plans to continue his campaign for the Senate, saying he looks forward to getting back to raising his children and “talking with you about the critical issues facing our country.”
But at least one Republican, former U.S. Representative Ryan Costello of Chester County immediately called on Parnell to withdraw from the race.
After this testimony, “he would lose to a double-digit golden retriever,” Costello tweeted. “He should write books and play hero on Fox and [get out] of the race. It’s a disaster for a candidate. “
Costello has in the past suggested that he could run for the Senate himself.
Temporary protection orders like those previously issued against Parnell are granted before the defendant has a chance to respond and are generally approved. In 2020, nearly nine in ten requests for temporary protection from abuse were granted, according to Pennsylvania court figures.
Permanent protection orders are only issued after a joint hearing involving both parties. None of the temporary orders against Parnell became permanent. The first ended after an agreement between the couple, according to court records provided by their campaign, and a judge rejected the second order after a hearing.
Snell said Monday that she had agreed to end the first temporary order in the hopes that she and Sean could reconcile.
Parnell also applied for a protective order against Snell in 2018, but was denied even a temporary order.
For Trump, Snell’s wave of accusations meant he had now endorsed two Republican candidates shadowed by allegations of domestic violence.
In September, the former president urged former NFL star Herschel Walker to run for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, approving it a day after giving Parnell the green light and campaigning with him.
Walker’s ex-wife testified that he was physically abusive and threatening to her. A Texas judge issued a protection order preventing him from owning a gun for a period of time.
(Philadelphia Inquirer editor-in-chief Chris Brennan contributed to this report.)
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