FILE - 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. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File) Sean Parnell
FILE - 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. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

A judge in Butler County called Parnell’s estranged wife “the more credible witness,” and believed Parnell “did commit some acts of abuse in the past.”

HARRISBURG — Sean Parnell, the candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump for US Senate in Pennsylvania, on Monday suspended his campaign after he lost a court fight over custody of his three children in which the judge said he believed allegations of abuse by Parnell’s estranged wife.

In a statement, Parnell said he was devastated by the judge’s decision, and planned to ask the judge to reconsider, but that he cannot continue his campaign.

Pennsylvania’s Senate seat is opening up with the retirement in 2023 of two-term Republican US Sen. Pat Toomey, and both Republicans and Democrats have a big field of candidates. The high-stakes campaign could help determine control of the US Senate in next year’s election.

Parnell’s candidacy was a constant presence in the case, with the judge noting in his opinion that Parnell argued that estranged wife Laurie Snell “is motivated to embarrass him in public and damage his political career,” while Snell argued that Parnell “is motivated to preserve a public image and his political career.”

Judge James Arner wrote in an order Monday that Snell will have sole legal custody of the school-age children, as well as primary physical custody. Parnell will have physical custody on three weekends per month, Arner wrote.

Snell was “the more credible witness,” Arner wrote in his 16-page opinion, saying she could remember and describe details in a convincing manner.

Snell testified about enduring years of rage and abuse from Parnell, including once when he choked her so hard she had to bite him to get free and another time when he slapped one of their children hard enough to leave welts through the back of the child’s shirt.

Parnell’s testimony, rather, he found “less credible,” saying Parnell was “somewhat evasive” and simply denied Snell’s allegations.

“Upon consideration of the credible evidence, I find that Sean Parnell did commit some acts of abuse in the past” against Snell, Arner wrote. He also believed that Parnell slapped the child, as Snell testified, Arner wrote.

But, he wrote, the fact that Snell has agreed in the past that Parnell can have substantial periods of unsupervised custody indicates that she does not view him as posing harm to the children, Arner wrote.

Snell’s lawyer, Jen Gilliland Vanasdale, said Snell “is grateful that justice prevailed.” 

Testifying under oath on Nov. 8, Parnell denied Snell’s allegations, saying he had never choked her or pinned her down, and never struck one of their children in a fit of rage.

Snell and Parnell have been living apart for at least three years, but had split custody of their children evenly.

Parnell’s history with his wife became a subject in the Republican primary campaign, days after Trump’s endorsement.

Parnell, a decorated former Army Ranger who led a platoon in Afghanistan, penned a memoir of his service in Afghanistan, which became a New York Times bestseller. He also has written four action novels, and emerged as a regular guest on Fox News programs before running for Congress last year.

Trump’s endorsement came in early September, as Parnell was an in-demand guest on cable TV news shows and conservative podcasts to discuss the Taliban’s seizing control of Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal of American forces.

Even amid headlines about the custody case, Trump had backed up his support for Parnell by scheduling a fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr. on Jan. 25 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.