A key GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate was forced to deny claims that he strangled and verbally abused his estranged wife and slammed one of his kids into a closet door in a testy custody case in Butler, Pennsylvania.
Sean Parnell, a Trump-endorsed Republican favorite, told a child custody court Monday that while he and Laurie Snell, his wife from whom he has been separated since 2018, had a terrible relationship but it never came to blows.
“We had a tumultuous relationship,” Parnell said, according to court records. “We fought a lot. We were on again, off again from the time that we met.”
Snell has accused her husband—a combat vet who fought in Afghanistan and who says he has been diagnosed with PTSD—of strangling her, calling her a “whore” and “piece of shit,” and hitting their children ages 12, 11, and 8.
Snell told Senior Judge James Arner, who is hearing the custody case, that her husband often flew into fits of rage that spiraled to physical abuse. In testimony given during the first hearing on Nov. 1, she told the court that once when she was heavily pregnant, he pulled over on Interstate 79 and forced her out of the car, demanding she abort the pregnancy. She said he locked her in rooms of their houses, screamed at her and pinned her down by her thighs. Once, she said, he strangled her so violently she had to bite his arm to break free.
On Monday, Parnell’s lawyer Kristen Eberle teed up the allegations one by one, asking if he had ever physically abused his wife, thrown a chair across the room at her or hit their kids.
Parnell answered, “Absolutely not.”
“Did you ever physically abuse your wife?” she asked.
“Did you ever choke your wife?” Eberle asked.
“Never,” he answered.
Smell’s accusations, which form the base of a bitter custody battle, include allegations that Parnell slapped one of their children so hard it left a “handprint-shaped welt” on the child’s back. Snell also said Parnell angrily punched a door that then slammed into another of the children’s faces.
Parnell denied each and every claim. “We made our kids together,” he countered. “Our kids are the best kids in the world, and we did that together.”
He then stated the obvious: “It just wasn’t a good relationship.”
Parnell laid out a series of counter-accusations, telling the court that once Snell was so angry—after he refused to use his military discount at Lowe’s hardware store—that she left him the parking lot, speeding away with such force she struck him with the car’s side mirror.
Denying all claims of abuse, Parnell told the court that his time in Afghanistan, which included an attack against his platoon by rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, left him with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD triggered by the smell of diesel fuel. “I think it’s gotten a lot better over time,” he testified. “That experience: I’m a warrior. I’m a protector. It doesn’t affect me negatively. In fact, I think it makes me a better person—a more compassionate person.”
Parnell, who is living with the woman with whom he admits to having a 9-month affair with during his marriage to Snell, is seeking full custody of his children with Snell. “I believe Laurie’s anger and resentment toward me have clouded her judgment,” he said, saying he would be willing to share custody if he wins the Senate race.
Text messages from Snell were introduced in court, including one telling Parnell that she knows he is a great dad and another offering to hit the campaign trail on his behalf—if he continues to pay the mortgage in the family home where she lives. “When they’re in public he’s great with the kids,” Snell said, later adding that he’s a good dad “when he’s not angry.”
She said she did not previously raise allegations of abuse against her husband, and told Parnell’s lawyer on cross-examination that she had once pinched one of their children to discipline them.
During Monday’s testimony, Snell said that her husband had regularly belittled her in text messages, which her lawyer introduced into evidence and which included calling her “a liar and a manipulative sociopath” and “evil.” She testified that when she volunteered at the local fire department to honor her father, who was a firefighter, Parnell charged: “the only women who are firefighters either want to hook-up or are lesbians.”
Snell told the court Parnell regularly harassed her about dating people since their separation. “I’ve kind of been frightened away from even dating someone,” she said.
Testimony will continue Tuesday in the case.