Picking up the pieces

The fam­ily of Billy Panas Jr., dis­cusses last week’s tri­al and their plans for a civil suit against the man who killed their son.

On Thursday, the Panas fam­ily fi­nally heard the word they’d been hop­ing to hear for more than two years — “guilty.”

The par­ents of slain Billy Panas Jr., dur­ing an in­ter­view at their home on Sat­urday, said the jury ver­dict two days earli­er in the tri­al of former Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer Frank Tep­per was the out­come they’d been hop­ing for.

ldquo;This is the reas­on we did everything,” said Wil­li­am Panas, fath­er of the vic­tim. “It worked out good … he did murder Billy.”

Frank Tep­per, 45, was con­victed last Thursday of first-de­gree murder for shoot­ing the 21-year-old Panas near Tep­per’s Port Rich­mond home in Novem­ber 2009.

After long months of wait­ing for the day to come, Kar­en Panas said she was nervous un­til the mo­ment when the jury’s ver­dict was read in the slay­ing of her son.

“We were wor­ried he might get off,” she said of Tep­per. “I really didn’t know what way it was go­ing to go. Now we can grieve. My first thought was, ‘What do we do now?’ We’ve pushed for this for so long.”

“It doesn’t bring our son back, but we will al­ways have our memor­ies,” Wil­li­am Panas said.

Look­ing ahead, the fam­ily said they are plan­ning to bring a civil case against Tep­per, the City of Phil­adelphia and the po­lice de­part­ment, claim­ing neg­li­gence. Last week­end, the Panas fam­ily pro­duced a file thick­er than most phone books, packed full of in­form­a­tion they say sup­ports their case.

The Panas fam­ily claims Tep­per had a his­tory of vi­ol­a­tions and should have been fired from the po­lice force long be­fore the shoot­ing death of their son.

In the months that fol­lowed his death, the Panas fam­ily pushed for justice through day­light marches in Port Rich­mond and around City Hall. They called for his ar­rest and fir­ing from the po­lice de­part­ment.

Tep­per wasn’t fired un­til the next year and the com­ple­tion of an in­vest­ig­a­tion — 45 days after Panas’ death — and he wasn’t charged with murder un­til Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams took of­fice.

Tep­per, a 16-year vet­er­an of the po­lice, likely will spend the rest of his life in pris­on. The jury found that he ac­ted im­prop­erly when he pulled a gun and fired a fatal bul­let in­to the chest of an un­armed Panas, who had come onto Tep­per’s street near the Stokely Play­ground, at Elkhart and Ed­ge­mont streets, to check out some fights that had broken out in front of his home.

Tep­per is ex­pec­ted to be sen­tenced to a man­dat­ory life sen­tence without the chance for pa­role.

Dur­ing the tri­al, the jury was in­struc­ted by the judge not to let any of Tep­per’s past ac­tions in­flu­ence its de­cision on the Panas case. Po­lice re­cords show that Tep­per had pulled out a weapon in pub­lic on at least three oth­er oc­ca­sions, in­clud­ing one case when Tep­per al­legedly beat a man with a gun after a car chase be­cause of com­ments sup­posedly made about Tep­per’s fianc&ea­cute;e.

Asked what they hope to gain from the civil case, the fam­ily is seek­ing un­spe­cified dam­ages, though Wil­li­am Panas was dis­mayed to hear on news re­ports that Tep­per may still be eli­gible to re­ceive his city pen­sion.

Panas said he’s try­ing to keep the former of­ficer from ever see­ing that money.

“In­tern­al af­fairs has all these re­cords … now we will talk about everything he did in the past,” said Panas. “I’m get­ting that pen­sion and I’m go­ing to give it back to the people in this neigh­bor­hood that need money … I don’t want his money, but I will take it from him and give it to people who need it.”

In the time since Billy’s death, the Panas fam­ily has wel­comed a new ad­di­tion, Madis­on Billy Panas, the daugh­ter of Lauren Panas, Billy’s sis­ter.

Her middle name is meant to hon­or her slain uncle.

The fam­ily said that spend­ing time with the child helps bring joy back to their lives.

“Some­times she will point to this and say ‘uncle’,” said Lauren, as she held out a neck­lace she wears that is a golden heart with a photo of her young­er broth­er.

Cur­rently, the fam­ily is work­ing with the city to make im­prove­ments to the Stokely Play­ground, where their son was slain.

“We’re go­ing to get new swings there … we’re go­ing to do everything we can,” said Kar­en Panas.

Asked when they plan to be­gin work on the play­ground, a con­fid­ent Wil­li­am Panas said, “That’s not a plan, it’s a guar­an­tee.” ••

Man­aging ed­it­or Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com 


You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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