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Parnell disputes estranged wife's testimony, describes 'tumultuous' relationship

Sean Parnell launched his campaign at a bike shop near North Park in McCandless.
Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA
U.S. Senate candidate Sean Parnell testified Monday afternoon for the first time in a child-custody hearing in Butler County

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sean Parnell’s legal team on Monday worked to dispute testimony from his estranged wife — who said he choked her and hurt their children when they were together — and depict Parnell as a caring father who is very involved in his kids’ lives.

Parnell, who testified Monday afternoon for the first time in a three-day, child-custody hearing in Butler County, said it’s been “hard” on his family since Laurie Snell testified last week. He described himself as a loving father and protector who never hurt or abused his family members.

Early in his testimony, Parnell detailed his struggle with PTSD following his tour as a U.S. Army Ranger in Afghanistan, but he said, “I’m a warrior, I’m a protector, I always have been...I think [PTSD] made me a better person.”

“It never manifested where I was a danger to my wife, ever,” he said, but he alleged she had been physical with him.

“We had a tumultuous relationship,” he said. “We fought a lot. We were on-again, off-again from the time that we met.”

Also Monday, Snell testified during cross-examination by Parnell's lawyer that the family went on a vacation together just days after an incident in which she said Parnell hurt one of their children. Months later, after another incident in which she said he hurt their other son, she sent a text message to him in which she said: “I know you are a good dad and that it’s important that the kids see you.”

Earlier in the day Monday, testimony largely focused on communication between the couple while they were separated.

Snell testified that Parnell had a nine-month affair in 2014 while they were married, and she shared a series of text messages in which he called her “evil” and “illogical.”

Snell, who is seeking custody of their three children, testified that Parnell had a relationship with Melanie Rawley, who she identified in court as his girlfriend, for nine months in 2014 during their marriage. Parnell testified that he and Rawley now live together with her two children and his children, and that “We would be married by now if this divorce were over with.”

Snell testified that after she and Parnell separated, Parnell sent her “harassing” texts. She also said Parnell was “tracking” her, asking her whose car was parked in her driveway.

Snell read a slew of text messages, submitted as evidence, regarding a time when they were trying to coordinate a visit for their daughter’s birthday. In those messages, he called her “a liar and a manipulative sociopath,” as well as “erratic."

In response, she asked him to stop saying such “mean, awful things.” He said, “No one is bullying you at all.”

In one instance, following her decision to join the Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Department, “He told me that the only women who are firefighters either want to hook up or are lesbians," she testified.

Testimony on Monday followed Snell's allegations last week that Parnell choked her and hit their young children, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Snell alleged that “[Parnell] tried to choke me out on a couch, and I literally had to bite him” to get free, the Inquirer reported last week.

“He was strangling me,” she said, telling the judge that Parnell once called her a “whore” and a “piece of [expletive]“ while holding her down. The newspaper reported that Snell said Parnell slapped one of their children hard enough to leave a mark through the child’s shirt.

In his testimony Monday afternoon, Parnell rebutted that account. "It didn't happen," he said.

Snell also testified last week that Parnell told her to get an abortion while they were on a trip in 2008, the newspaper reported. On Monday, Parnell denied that he did so.

In a statement following Snell's testimony last week, Parnell said she “made a number of false allegations. There is no truth to them, not one. They are complete fabrications; not distortions or misrepresentations — just flat-out lies.”

Parnell has been widely considered a frontrunner in next year’s U.S. Senate race, winning the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, and he has been closely tied to Trump for several years. Trump announced Parnell’s first run for office in 2019, when he hoped to best Democrat Conor Lamb in the 17th Congressional district. Parnell lost by about 10,000 votes.

The Western Pennsylvania Republican is a decorated U.S. Army veteran, best-selling author and mortgage consultant. He’s also a contributor on Fox & Friends.

The hearing is scheduled to continue on Tuesday.