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Man pleads guilty in Jan. slaying

December 20, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Charles William Wingfield was the kind of man who would call his wife on his cell phone as he drove home from work and sing off-key to her, Tracy Wingfield said during emotional testimony in court Friday to the man convicted of fatally shooting her husband.

Richard L. Pannell Jr., 25, pleaded guilty Friday afternoon to first-degree murder and was sentenced to serve life in prison. As part of a plea bargain, he will be eligible for parole after serving 15 years.

Wingfield's wife, mother, father and brother all addressed Pannell in court and videotaped statements given by Wingfield's sons were played.

More than 30 people packed into Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes' courtroom for the hearing, which lasted about an hour. Many cried as each family member spoke.

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Wingfield left behind two sons, Brandon, 10, and Anthony, 4. A daughter, now 6 months old, was born after Wingfield's death. She was named Charli in memory of her father.

On the video, Brandon sat on the floor and kept his head down during most of his statement.

"(He) was the first person to hold me as a baby," Brandon said. "I would never, ever, ever trade my dad for anything in the world.

"I hope that the bad person will not break out of jail. I hope that he stays in there for the rest of his life."

Tracy Wingfield, of Hagerstown, placed two framed pictures of her husband on the witness stand before testifying. She told Pannell that he may as well have been charged with two murders because part of her died as well.

"He was everything you probably wished you ever could be," she said.

She said her husband would bring home flowers or CDs for no reason except to make her happy.

No matter how long or hard he worked, when he came home he always danced or sang with his sons or helped with homework, she said.

"You can never imagine how empty and alone I feel," she said.

Her older son is terrified that something will happen to his mother and checks their home's doors and windows, sometimes twice a night, to ensure they are locked, Tracy Wingfield said. He puts pocketknives under his mom's pillow for fear Pannell will break out of jail and harm her, she said.

Anger occasionally dominated her statement, including when she told Pannell she is mad that while she has to work hard to support her family and pay for health insurance, Pannell will sit in prison with free food and free medical care.

"You're nothing but a lowlife wannabe thug," she said.

Wingfield's mother, Linda Smith, of Frederick, Md., said she was proud of her son, who started his own roofing business with nothing but a truck, ladder, hammer and determination.

"A piece of me died with him that day," she said. "Jan. 1, 2003, was the worst day of my life."

Earl Wingfield, Charles Wingfield's father, started his statement by demanding Pannell look him in the eyes.

"Do they look familiar?" Earl Wingfield asked.

Pannell looked and then dropped his head.

"He didn't think of himself ever. He gave of himself always," Earl Wingfield, of College Park, Md., said of his son. "You will suffer a pain you have never understood. What awaits you is an eternity of darkness."

During questioning from Judge Wilkes, Pannell said he has an eighth-grade education but obtained a GED. He has worked in the fast-food restaurant business since leaving school, he said.

When asked to give his version of what happened, Pannell said that around 4 a.m. on Jan. 1, Wingfield approached him several times asking for drugs. After telling him he did not sell drugs, Pannell went and got a gun, pointed it at Wingfield and pulled the trigger, he said.

"That's how everything happened," Pannell said.

When Wilkes mentioned premeditation, an element necessary for a first-degree murder conviction, Pannell said, "I didn't have no idea the gun was loaded."

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said premeditation existed, even if only for a moment, when Pannell retrieved the gun and pointed it at Wingfield.

The shooting happened in the parking lot of Capital Heights, a townhouse complex on the outskirts of Martinsburg. Wingfield was shot once in the neck.

Pannell had moved back to Martinsburg a few days before the shooting after living in Ohio.

Pannell also had faced a felony charge of kidnapping, which was dismissed because the victim, Crystal Maphis, refused to cooperate with police. Maphis alleged that Pannell made her accompany him to the crime scene a few hours after the shooting, where he "nosed around" and spoke to police, court records state. When police realized a few hours later that Pannell was the shooter, he was taken into custody.

Although Wingfield's family members said Pannell deserves to die, mercy - a chance for parole - must be granted anytime a defendant agrees to plead guilty to first-degree murder, Games-Neely said.

West Virginia does not have the death penalty.

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