By Lena Mitchell
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
Stacie Pannell won’t graduate from college.
She won’t marry or give her mother grandchildren.
She won’t be an aunt to nieces and nephews through her younger sister and brother.
On Oct. 8, 1985, an 18-year old Stacie Pannell of Ripley was killed in her dorm room at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
The details of that crime, the arrest of a suspect, and the circuitous process that led to a trial and conviction will be told in Sunday’s episode of “On The Case With Paula Zahn.” The episode – “Evidence of Deception” – airs at 9 p.m. on the ID channel.
A film crew for Zahn’s show was in Northeast Mississippi in November 2013 – Corinth, Booneville and surrounding areas – interviewing and filming law enforcement, district attorney, family members of Pannell and the woman convicted in the case, Stephanie Alexander Louden.
However, Stacie Pannell’s sister, Kim Phillips, wanted to be sure people know the story is really about Stacie, who she was and the beautiful, promising life that ended.
“She was so fun to be around,” Phillips said. “She didn’t have just one best friend. All of her friends were best friends. She loved life and was always trying to help others less fortunate. She was just tenderhearted and good.”
Phillips, 43, was three years younger than Stacie Pannell, and their brother, Bradley Pannell, is seven years younger than Phillips.
“He was only 8 years old when she died, and I don’t think he really understood what was happening,” Phillips said.
Her parents – the late Wicki Pannell and Judy Pannell of Ripley – were already coping with the brain cancer that claimed Wicki Pannell’s life in 1991.
“Stacie was really smart and had scholarship offers from all over the place,” Phillips said. “The reason she decided to go to Northeast, though, was to be close to Daddy because we already knew he was sick. She wanted to live at home and drive every day, but because she was in the band she had to live on campus.”
Wicki Pannell, a Vietnam veteran, introduced the kids to water skiing, other water sports, camping and being in the outdoors.
“Daddy started us out young, and we spent most summer weekends at Sardis Lake,” Phillips said. “Stacie loved the song ‘Summer of ’69’ by Brian Adams.”
Stacie Pannell had a passion for the rifle drill team at Ripley High School, which led her to the band rifle team at Northeast. Her team rifle ended up being the instrument of her death.
In the early stages of the investigation, it appeared that there had been an intruder into her first-floor dorm room who attempted rape: The window to her room was open and the screen had been cut, giving the impression of a suspect who had entered or left the room through the window.
After several months, the attempted rape scenario was ruled out, and one of Stacie Pannell’s suite mates, Stephanie Alexander, became a suspect. She confessed under intense questioning, but has since recanted that confession.
At the end of the 1987 trial Alexander, now Louden, was convicted of manslaughter in the heat of passion. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and was released after serving the required number of years under Mississippi law in effect at the time, about 10 years.
“On The Case” looks for similar elements in all its stories, said producer Larry Israel: an emotional story, something the audience can connect with, a story with dramatic elements, and interesting twists and turns.
“Certainly this case has all of that,” Israel said. “A young woman’s life ends tragically as it is just getting started, a crime scene that isn’t as it seems, a story with odd meanderings until the conclusion. Both sides question whether justice was ever served.”
Israel said he’ll let viewers reach their own conclusion.