Picking up the pieces

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 fiancée.

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