Former Phila. police officer found guilty of murder

Frank Tepper

February 23, 2012 4:07:43 PM PST
A former Philadelphia police officer who shot an unarmed neighbor during a drunken melee outside a baby shower will spend his life in prison after being convicted Thursday of first-degree murder.

The November 2009 slaying of William Panas Jr., 21, by off-duty Officer Frank Tepper stoked tensions in the city's Port Richmond neighborhood. A fight had erupted outside Tepper's rowhouse during an evening shower for his daughter. Panas had been drinking with friends and came to investigate.

The young man apparently doubted Tepper's will to shoot as the officer pointed a gun at his chest.

Panas, perhaps sarcastically, said "He's not going to shoot anyone," according to Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry.

Tepper, who had been drinking, proved him wrong.

"He just couldn't handle that insult," Barry said after the verdict. "He's a police officer. He knows what's going to happen when you shoot someone in the chest."

Tepper, who had about 15 years on the force, did not testify.

The courtroom erupted in hysteria when the verdict was announced. Tepper's wife and daughter screamed, and were led out along with Panas' relatives.

Defense lawyer Fortuanto Perri Jr. called the case a tragedy all-around. He had argued that his client fired in self-defense.

"There are no winners or losers in this case," he said. "At the end of the day, the jury felt Mr. Tepper was not justified."

The jury heard a 911 tape of Tepper's call to report the shooting. He said he had shot someone after being assaulted.

Tepper sounded neither worried nor scared on the tape, Barry said.

The former officer will be formally sentenced on March 29. First-degree murder carries a life without parole sentence in Pennsylvania. He was also convicted of a weapons charge and reckless endangerment.

Panas' relatives will have the right to give victim impact statements.

"I'm just happy that people of Port Richmond, or anywhere else, won't have to worry about Frank Tepper again," Barry said.