BUTLER, Pennsylvania — Republican Senate candidate Sean Parnell unequivocally denied every accusation of abuse made against him by his wife during a heated custody hearing Monday and said a photo his wife had previously presented as evidence was not his child.
Parnell, who stands accused by his wife of abusing both her and his children, took the stand for the first time Monday afternoon and testified in a Butler County courtroom that none of the alleged incidents of abuse happened.
Laurie Snell charged last week that in one incident, Parnell allegedly struck their son in February 2018, and Snell presented evidence of a photo of the back of a child with welts on their back. When asked by his attorney if he had done this, Parnell firmly replied under oath, “No. It didn’t happen.”
Parnell also denied that the child in the photo was his, and a source close to Parnell said the identity of the child is unclear and that no one seems to know who the child in the picture is.
Snell also testified last week that she heard Parnell punch a door and then heard the door hit one of their children in the head in May 2018.
Parnell denied that allegation, saying he and his son were playing when his son hit his head on a door. That the incident was child abuse “could not be further from the truth,” Parnell said, adding that “Laurie wasn’t even there” and that he had immediately comforted his son when it happened.
In another claim, Snell said Parnell choked her in a rage until she bit him to stop. When his attorney questioned if that had happened, Parnell replied, “Absolutely not.” The Pennsylvania Republican asserted that he had “never” physically abused Snell or his children.
Snell also accused Parnell of yelling at her when she was pregnant to “get an abortion.” Asked if that had happened, Parnell said, “Absolutely not.”
Snell’s allegations against Parnell began crumbling Monday during her cross-examination as new context surfaced. Text messages, for instance, revealed Snell had asked Parnell in 2018, after the alleged child abuse incidents, to watch their children. Snell also went on a vacation to Florida with Parnell and their kids right after the first alleged child abuse incident.
In an unexpected turn of events, Snell was asked if she punished her kids and she admitted to once pinching one of her sons, who was around 12 years old at the time, on the back of the arm after he called her a name. During Parnell’s testimony, the Pennsylvania father said, “This incident is very concerning for me.” He said his son’s cries of pain after the incident were unusual and that he had “bruises on his arm for weeks” as a result of the pinch.
Parnell, a decorated war veteran who fought in heavy combat in Afghanistan for 16 months in 2006–2007, ran for Congress last year in his first bid for office against now-Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) and narrowly lost by about two points.
Parnell’s attorney broached text messages from October 2019 when Parnell first reached out to Snell about his possible congressional run and asked for her support. Parnell’s attorney began reading through messages from the 15-page document, revealing texts from Snell blackmailing Parnell.
“Write up an agreement that gives me the house and that you will pay the mortgage until the kids are done with school, and you have my full support. I will even door-knock for you,” Snell’s text message read. Snell also told Parnell she wanted a job on his campaign. She then said in a message later that month that she had been offered a job with Lamb’s campaign team. This, Snell admitted in testimony, was a distortion of the truth and that the job she was offered was not with Lamb’s campaign but rather a job that supported it. She admitted she was “probably” being “a little bit snarky” because Parnell’s company’s cofounder had allegedly fired her from her job.
Snell’s lawyer repeatedly objected to reading through the 15-page document of messages, and the judge eventually shut down the line of questioning on it.
Parnell, who received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for injuries he sustained in Afghanistan, said that when returned home, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition he has been public about and written a book about. He said during his testimony that the PTSD “never manifested itself in a way where …. I was a danger to my wife and kids, ever.”
The bitter divorce proceedings between Parnell and Snell have been ongoing for years. Monday’s custody hearing revealed a rocky relationship between the two that Parnell said had been “on again, off again from the time that we met.” Snell accused Parnell of having an affair for nine months with the woman he is now in a relationship with, while messages between the two revealed heightened emotions, and, at times, hostility toward one another as the marriage deteriorated.
Parnell had sought to keep the custody battle over his children private in October, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Parnell said of his request, “I signed up to run for office. … My kids did not.” According to the outlet, Parnell wanted records about the custody case sealed and for the judge to grant a gag order against Snell speaking about two “protection from abuse” orders a judge had temporarily granted to her in 2017 and 2018.
Both of those orders were granted briefly upon Snell’s initial request but one was withdrawn after an agreement between Parnell and Snell within two weeks of Snell requesting it, and the judge denied the protection order for the second following a hearing that included both parties. Both orders were later expunged.
Snell’s attorney, according to the Inquirer, did not want Parnell’s privacy requests granted and claimed Parnell was only looking out for his reputation and his political future. The judge honored Snell’s request to keep records open, which has resulted in the personal turmoil being thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks. “We are pleased with the Judge’s decision to keep the trial open to the public,” Parnell’s attorney said in a statement at the time of the decision.
Because the two protection orders were expunged, there is no record of what claims Snell made against Parnell in them.
During Monday’s hearing, however, Snell testified about a custody petition she made after the alleged incidents of abuse. Parnell’s attorney noted that in 17 paragraphs-worth of reasons listed to support her custody pursuit, Snell had mentioned nothing about violence or any other dangerous behavior by Parnell. The attorney said a second petition Snell filed in July 2020 contained no allegations of abuse either.
The custody hearing comes as Parnell — who has been elevated by an endorsement from former President Donald Trump — is gearing up to campaign in a packed primary field in the battleground race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) next year.
David McCormick, the husband of Dina Powell — a Goldman Sachs banker who briefly worked in the Trump White House — is reportedly considering a bid, and Jeff Bartos, a former candidate for lieutenant governor, has declared he is running and has seized on the allegations against Parnell to attack his candidacy. Bartos, who previously interned in the Clinton White House and once praised Hillary Clinton, also has a close relationship with Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a frontrunning candidate for Senate on the Democrats’ side.
Write to Ashley Oliver at [email protected].