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In sworn testimony, wife of Pa. Senate candidate Sean Parnell says he strangled her and abused their children

Sean Parnell speaks in McCandless, Pa., on May 11 announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat to replace retiring Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R). (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/AP)

The wife of Pennsylvania Senate candidate Sean Parnell said Monday that Parnell once strangled her until she bit him to get free and another time slapped one of their children so hard that he left welts on the child’s body.

Laurie Parnell made the statements in sworn testimony during a court hearing in Butler, Pa., as part of child custody proceedings that began Monday in their divorce case, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Her testimony came after her husband twice sought and was denied a gag order that would have prevented her from publicly discussing the case.

Sean Parnell is running in the Republican primary to succeed retiring Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), in what is likely to be one of the most hotly contested Senate races of 2022. He has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump, who said in a September statement that Parnell will “make Pennsylvania very proud.”

Sean Parnell denied the allegations in a statement issued by his campaign and said he looks forward to the opportunity to “present the truth to the court” next week.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, during Monday’s hearing, Laurie Parnell tearfully detailed years of physical and verbal abuse at the hands of her now-estranged husband.

“It just got worse and worse,” she said of the abuse, according to the newspaper.

She said one time, her husband had pinned her down and called her a “whore” and a “piece of s---.” Another time, he forced her out of their vehicle and told her to “go get an abortion,” the Inquirer reported.

Sean Parnell’s campaign website states that he opposes abortion rights and “will always vote to protect the unborn.”

Laurie Parnell also testified that her husband slapped one of their three young children, leaving “fingerprint-shaped welts” on the child’s back, according to the Inquirer. She also said he once strangled her on a couch, only relenting after she bit him to free herself.

Experts on domestic violence say that attempted strangulation is a cause for extreme alarm, as it is one of the strongest indicators that a violent relationship could turn fatal. Studies have shown that women who have been non-lethally strangled by their partner face a seven times higher risk of becoming homicide victims of the same partner.

In a statement issued by his campaign Monday night, Sean Parnell said that “what happened today in court was not justice, nor did it have any basis in fact or truth.”

“We are looking forward to our day in court to set the record straight,” he said. “We anxiously await the opportunity to refute these hurtful, baseless allegations. Let me emphatically state: I have never raised a hand in anger towards my wife or any of our three children.”

Sean Parnell’s alleged mistreatment of his wife became a campaign issue in September, when one of his Republican primary rivals, businessman Jeff Bartos, said Parnell was “unelectable” because his wife had been granted two temporary protection orders against him in 2017 and 2018.

Both orders were later expunged, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Sean’s actions and attitude toward women are disturbing, well-documented, and disqualifying,” Bartos told the newspaper in September. “The citizens of Pennsylvania deserve to know this information.”

Bartos also said that a 2019 Fox Nation appearance by Parnell “shows that he harbors contempt for women and it’s disqualifying.”

In the interview, Parnell said “the whole happy wife, happy life nonsense has done nothing but raise one generation of women tyrants after the next.”

“The idea that a woman doesn’t need a man to be successful, the idea that a woman doesn’t need a man to have a baby, the idea that a woman can live a happy and fulfilling life without a man, I think it’s all nonsense,” Parnell said at the time, according to the Pittsburgh City Paper.

He later tweeted that he doesn’t “believe a woman can’t be successful w/out a man” and that the program was “a tongue-in-cheek comedy show.”

Michael Scherer contributed to this report.