Nov 16, 2007 09:29 PM
LEGAL AFFAIRS REPORTER
While acknowledging it may seem "harsh" to surrender him to the United States after 30 years in Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld the extradition of Joseph Pannell, the Toronto librarian wanted for the 1969 attempted murder of a Chicago police officer.
There is evidence upon which a properly-instructed jury could convict Pannell and little support for his contention that, as a black man, hewould not receive a fair trial in a racially-charged U.S. justice system, a three-judge panel ruled today.
Pannell, 58, a father of four who lived quietly in Mississauga under the name Gary Freeman until his arrest three years ago, was appealing a Toronto judge's ruling from 2005, which committed him for extradition, as well as a decision last year by Vic Toews, then justice minister, ordering him to surrender.
"To return Pannell to the United States after thirty years of quiet, peaceful living in this country may appear to some as harsh and may
seem to exact an onerous and unfair penalty on his wife and children," said Justice Marc Rosenberg, who wrote today's decision. "Indeed, the
record is filled with letters of support attesting to Pannell's good character since he has lived in Canada and the perceived injustice of returning him to Chicago after so many years."
Pannell's lawyer, John Norris, argued the U.S. simply has not made out a sufficient case for extradition. He also argued that Justice David Watt, who presided at an extradition hearing two years ago, was wrong to deny Pannell a chance to summon the shooting victim, retired officer Terrence Knox, as well as an Illinois prosecutor, to the witness stand in a Toronto courtroom and challenge them on deficiencies in the evidence.
The state's attorneys filed a case record with Watt asserting they have evidence Pannell shot Knox on March 7, 1969, as the officer tried to question him outside a Chicago high school. Two civilian witnesses claim they chased Pannell as he ran from the scene and identified him as the shooter once he was in a police cruiser.
Every officer involved in arresting Pannell and recovering the gun have since died and the weapon has been destroyed.
But the U.S. still insists it can prove a gun was found and that it had been used to shoot Knox. "How it will do so, in view of the deaths of the arresting officers, is unexplained," Rosenberg said.
Norris also pointed to discrepancies in Knox's story, saying they call into question the reliability of the state's evidence.
In a victim impact statement, Knox said Pannell pulled out a gun and fired about 13 shots. Other documents say Knox is expected to tell a Chicago jury that Pannell fired 7 shots, while the officer fired back with six.
It would be wrong to focus on a single inconsistency about the number of shots fired, said Rosenberg, writing on behalf of a panel that included Justices Eileen Gillese and Jean MacFarland.
All of Knox's proposed testimony must be considered and it includes consistent accounts of, among other things, when and where the shooting happened, he said.
Pannell contends a false allegation that he was once a member of the Black Panthers - he thinks the story came from the Chicago police force - together with an accusation that he shot a white police officer, put him at risk of physical harm in the U.S.
His lawyers provided Towes with what they believed was evidence that racism pervades the U.S. justice system.
Toews, however, said that despite past problems, concrete steps have been taken to combat racism in the system. There is also no evidence that Pannell had been mistreated in jail in Chicago following his arrest, Toews said.
"This was important information upon which the Minister (sic) could properly conclude that the appellant was not at risk, despite his subjective perception," Rosenberg said.
He noted Toews also relied on the fact Pannell had been twice granted bail, despite the seriousness of the charge against him, during a period of volatility and ugly racial violence in Chicago.
Pannell said he fled to Canada while out on bail because he feared for his safety.
Deemed a flight risk, he was denied bail following his arrest in July, 2004. He still has the option of seeking permission to appeal today's ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.