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Accused claims shooting was accidental

January 09, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - About eight hours after a Hagerstown man was shot once in the neck, Richard L. Pannell Jr. told police that he was just "playing around" and that the shooting was an accident, according to a videotaped statement Pannell gave police.

The 40-minute statement was played in court Wednesday evening during Pannell's preliminary hearing. Police have charged Pannell, 24, with murder and kidnapping.

At the end of the hearing, Magistrate Joan Bragg found probable cause to forward the charges to Circuit Court, for possible grand jury indictment and trial.

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On the video, Pannell cried a couple of times and said he was unaware the gun was loaded. He said he picked it up in a wooded, trash-filled area near the Capitol Heights apartment complex outside of Martinsburg, where the shooting happened. Earlier that night, Pannell said others had been shooting the gun to celebrate New Year's.

Charles Wingfield, 32, was shot in the complex's parking lot at around 4 a.m. on Jan. 1.

"I put it to his face and pulled the trigger and that's when I heard 'Boom,'" Pannell said on the tape. "I got so scared I just ran with the gun."

Pannell told police that Wingfield drove to the complex and asked for "dope."

Lt. K.C. Bohrer, of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, testified that Wingfield's family members told him Wingfield had a drug problem.

After picking up the gun, Pannell said he pulled it from his belt and held it to Wingfield's neck.

"It was all supposed to be a practical joke," he said.

Wingfield did not move or tell Pannell to lower the gun, Pannell said.

"If he would have said something like this, none of this would have happened," Pannell said. He said he had never fired a gun before.

"I'm not no murderer. I'm not no killer," Pannell said. "And yes, I do feel bad for what I did."

Bohrer said he believes robbery was the motive for the shooting. Wingfield's wallet was rifled and officers found his driver's license in a pair of Pannell's pants, Bohrer said. Wingfield had $320 in his sock, which was later found at the hospital, Bohrer said.

"It's not uncommon in this area to have drug rip-offs," he said.

Along with Bohrer, one other witness testified during the 90- minute hearing. Crystal Mathis said she was outside a friend's apartment not long after the shooting and was approached by Pannell.

She testified that Pannell said he had just accidentally killed somebody and that he was going to kill himself.

A petite young woman with reddish-blonde hair, Mathis testified she had heard of Pannell, but never met him. Pannell grabbed her arm and demanded that she accompany him to the crime scene, where he wanted to look around, she said.

At the crime scene, Pannell spoke with a deputy, and gave the officer his name. He was not taken into custody at that time.

On the video, Bohrer asked Pannell why he did not turn himself in if the shooting was an accident.

"If I can get away with it ... I'm going to try my best to get away with it," Pannell said.

Police found the gun near the shooting site, behind a rear wheel of a blue sedan for sale, which is the spot where Pannell said he left it, Bohrer said.

Police arrested Pannell a few hours after the shooting, after they saw him standing on a corner near the shooting site. His clothing matched that described by witnesses as what the shooter had been wearing, Bohrer said.

Convictions on charges of murder and kidnapping each carry a possible sentence of up to life in prison.

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