Pannell enters unique plea deal

February 23, 2008 11:35:48 AM PST
Joseph Pannell pleaded guilty to charges of shooting a Chicago police officer nearly forty years ago.

Pannell fled to Canada after shooting officer Terrence Knox in 1969 - then skipping bail in the seventies. Pannell returned to Chicago earlier this month to face those charges.

This very unusual case has a very unusual ending -- Pannell will serve a short jail sentence - and he agreed to make a big contribution to a police aid fund.

On Friday Terrance Knox and Joseph Pannell were in the same room together for the first time since 1973. Pannell says he is finally taking responsibility for his actions - decades after the shooting. Knox says it was painful to look at the man who tried to kill him.

"I had a hard time sitting in court today, it brought back memories that I've tried to block out, and I don't want them back," Knox said.

Terrence Knox says he considers every day since March 7, 1969 a blessing. On that day - Knox - a Chicago police officer fresh out of the academy - was shot three times in his right arm by then 19 year old Joseph Pannell. Pannell was caught, but he skipped bail in the 1970s and fled to Canada. He changed his name, got married, raised four kids and worked as a library research assistant.

He was finally arrested in Canada in 2004 - after Chicago and Canadian police tracked his fingerprint records. He fought extradition until this month - when he finally returned to Chicago to face justice.

Appearing in court Friday, Pannell agreed to a unique plea bargain. He'll serve only thirty days in jail but pay $250-thousand dollars to the Chicago police memorial foundation -- which helps children of fallen and injured police officers. The idea for the plea bargain came from Terrance Knox and his family.

"This is not 30 days. It's 30 days plus the time served in the various prisons plus two years' probation plus agreeing and stipulating that he tried to murder me," Knox said.

Pannell's attorney spoke to reporters after the hearing - calling his client by his new name, Douglas Gary Freeman.

"If there's such a thing as redemption, it's personified by Gary Freeman," said Neil Cohen, Pannell's Attorney.

Pannell read a statement in court - reading in part: "It was an American tragedy. By this plea, I accept responsibility for the part I played in that tragedy." His wife also spoke to reporters after the hearing.

"He is the best father a child could ever hope for, and ladies he is the best husband in the whole world, an amazing human being," said Natercia Coelho, Pannell's Wife.

Knox stressed that the plea bargain is not his way of forgiving the man who shot him. "If you were shot like I was, would you forgive that person? The case is over, I want to move on with my life," Knox said.

Pannell's attorney denies reports that Pannell was a member of the Black Panthers. He was also was rather vague about where the $250 thousand dollars is coming from. He says Pannell raised much of it himself from community members in Toronto. Pannell's thirty days in jail started on February 7th when he was taken into custody. So he'll be out on March 7th. He asked for permission to serve his two years probation in Washington D.C., because that's where his parents live.