Gavin Newsom denies parole for Kern County man who killed toddler in 2000

Crime Watch

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Gov. Gavin Newsom has denied parole for a Kern County man convicted of killing a toddler 21 years ago, reversing a California Board of Parole Hearings decision.

Michael Todd Panella, 51, will remain in prison for the death of the 20-month-old boy, the son of a woman whom he was dating, according to prosecutors.

“While there are many areas where the governor and I don’t see things the same way, it is encouraging to learn that on the issue of whether a convicted child torturer and murderer should be released after 20 years spent using drugs and defrauding the victim’s family from prison, we can agree,” District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said in a news release.

Panella became eligible for elderly parole as a result of amendments passed by the state legislature in 2020 that reduced requirements for inmates who were at least 50 and had served 20 years of their sentence.

Previously, the law required inmates to be at least 60 and serve a minimum of 25 years of their sentence.

The slain child, Johnathan, suffered dozens of bruises to his hips, head, face and extremities, as well as “extreme trauma” to the small bowel, according to court filings. He died from multiple blunt impacts to his abdomen, which caused internal bleeding and dehydration.

The abuse occurred over at least a week, prosecutors said.

At trial, a jailhouse informant testified Panella said he was going to get away with murder “just like O.J. Simpson.”

Another informant testified hearing Panella say, “I killed the little bastard.”

A jury in October 2000 found Panella guilty of first-degree murder and assault of a child under 8 resulting in death. He was sentenced to 25 years to life.

The Board of Parole Hearings in July recommended Panella for parole.

Newsom, however, found Panella’s participation in self-help courses, the earning of his GED and other rehabilitative efforts were outweighed by other factors, including his refusal to pay restitution to the victim’s family by directing his family to send him money using another inmate’s account.

When questioned about this, Panella told the parole board, “I didn’t have an understanding of why this is in place, and why I owed them.”

Newsom found Panella still “poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time.”

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