2-Year Term for Man Who Shot Youth at Border

An Imperial Beach man was sentenced Friday to two years in state prison and fined $10,000 for killing a 12-year-old Mexican boy last May, shortly after the youth had crossed into U.S. territory.

The death was one of a number in the border area last year that drew widespread attention in both Mexico and the United States, sparking allegations that an atmosphere of racially charged terror dominated the area.

After extensive investigation, authorities declared that the shooting was not racially motivated but instead the tragic result of a target-shooting spree.

Dwight Ray Pannel, 23, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in January for the May, 1990, death of Emilio Jimenez Bejines. The youth and two siblings, accompanied by an uncle, were walking in the border strip on their way to join his parents in the Orange County community of Stanton.

In a plea-bargain, prosecutors earlier dropped a murder charge and an unrelated car-theft charge against Pannel. His maximum prison exposure was limited to two years, according to the agreement.


The assailant’s attorney, Alex Loebig, told San Diego Municipal Judge Ann Winebrenner that Pannel and two other people had fired a gun that day while target shooting. He said Pannel never intended to kill anyone.

“From the very start, Mr. Pannel has not denied . . . that his behavior was grossly negligent,” Loebig said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Luis Aragon told the judge that relatives of the boy believe the two-year sentence is not enough.

The judge said her only options were to sentence Pannel to the agreed-upon two years or to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea and face a potential murder trial. Neither attorney made a request to withdraw the plea.

Aragon has said the plea bargain was accepted because prosecutors did not have facts or evidence to prove the shooting was done deliberately or with malice. On the afternoon of the shooting, Aragon said, Pannel and his friends had been target shooting and drinking beer.

At first, another man, Leonard Cuen, 21, was arrested for the slaying; the fatal shot emanated from the rear balcony of his border-area home. But Cuen was eventually cleared of criminal involvement and released.

The prosecutor said the boy was 400 yards from the house when he was shot in the head.

The judge gave Pannel credit for 120 days already spent in jail, which will be subtracted from his prison term.