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Parnell again denies allegations of abuse as child-custody case ends

sean parnell Election 2022-Senate-Pennsylvania
Keith Srakocic
In this Sept. 22, 2020 file photo, Sean Parnell walks through people gathered at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump at the Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon Township, Pa.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sean Parnell on Tuesday again denied hurting his sons in the third and final day of a bitter child-custody hearing in which his estranged wife, Laurie Snell, testified under oath that he physically hurt her and their children when they were together.

When Snell’s attorney presented him with an enlarged photo that Snell says was taken after he hit the child, showing a welt in the shape of a handprint on a child’s back, Parnell said he did not recognize it.

“That is not a picture of my son,” he said in cross-examination during the hearing, which concluded late Tuesday afternoon in Butler County.

Earlier in the day, the court also heard testimony from Lori McGoogana woman who has cared for the family for more than a decade, who said she never witnessed any physical abuse.

Melanie Rawley, Parnell’s girlfriend, testified as well, saying “he’s the best dad, the best dad I’ve ever seen.”

During cross-examination, Rawley testified that she and Parnell began dating in September 2018 but had relations in 2014.

“It was my understanding that [Parnell and Snell] were separated at the time" in 2014, Rawley said.

Snell’s lawyer, Jill Sinatra, said the couple was not separated then.

But the lion’s share of the hearing Tuesday involved a detailed back-and-forth between parties about the minutiae of daily life: kids’ school assignments, sports schedules and communication problems. Toward the end of the day, Senior Judge James Arner cut things short.

“We knew before this trial that they can’t communicate,” he said. “I really don’t see how I’m going to find that one is entirely free of blame and one is completely deserving of all the blame.”

When the hearing ended, Arner said he would take some time to review the case before he issued an order but would do so as soon as possible.

In testimony Monday afternoon, Parnell described himself as a father who is very involved in his kids’ lives — attending soccer practices, cooking and eating dinner together as a family “every single night” and helping with virtual classes during the school shutdown early in the pandemic. “I was involved every step of the way, and I had a heck of a lot of fun doing it,” he said.

Parnell also told his lawyer on Monday that if he were elected to the U.S. Senate, it would be “very doable” to continue to be involved in his children’s lives, and he would not plan to move out of western Pennsylvania.

The child-custody hearing was the latest development in a years-long battle between the estranged couple. Both parents are seeking primary custody. Parnell said on Monday he filed for primary custody “to protect my family,” but if he wins next year’s election and Snell “is in a better place,” he’d be open to a shared arrangement.

Parnell is a decorated Army veteran, author and works at a mortgage company. He also is a contributor on Fox & Friends, and he won the endorsement of former President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race to replace outgoing Republican Pat Toomey. Parnell first ran for office in 2019, hoping to win Democrat Conor Lamb’s seat and represent Allegheny County suburbs and Beaver County. He lost by about 10,000 votes.

Lucy Perkins is an editor and also reports on federal government and elections for the Government and Accountability team. Before joining the WESA newsroom, she was an NPR producer in Washington, D.C., working on news programs like All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. You can reach her at
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