CATEGORY: Prentiss County

AUTHOR: SUMMER

HED:Parole denied for Northeast coed

By Jane Clark Summers

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

JACKSON - The state Parole Board has denied parole to Stephanie Alexander, who was sentenced nine years ago today to 20 years in prison for beating her suitemate to death at Northeast Mississippi Community College.

Alexander would have been eligible for parole next month after serving about one-fourth of her sentence for the 1985 slaying of Stacey Dianne Pannell of Ripley. The parole board met in December and turned down Alexander's request for parole, said board member Harry Bryant.

According to state law, the board must meet two months prior to the first possible parole date, Bryant said. The general practice is to notify only the victims and/or families, Bryant said.

The family gathered petitions and letters from across the state to present to the parole board, said Judy Pannell, Stacey's mother. On Christmas Eve, she received a letter from the parole board stating that Alexander had been put off for parole for another three years, Pannell said.

Alexander is serving time at Central Mississippi Corrections Facility in Rankin County.

District Attorney Johnny Young, who helped prosecute the case, said he wrote a letter to the parole board objecting to a parole.

"I told them she was convicted of a brutal murder and was convicted of manslaughter and that for this crime, I didn't think she had served enough time," he said.

Former Assistant District Attorney Ron Michael, now in private practice, agreed with Young.

"It was just pure murder," Michael said. "If they set her off for three years, they will probably set her off for another three years after that."

Indicted on murder charges, Alexander was convicted of the lesser offense of manslaughter during a two-week trial held in Monroe County. The trial was moved because of extensive pretrial publicity of the high-profile case, which shook the Prentiss County campus and surrounding communities.

Alexander began serving time Aug. 20, 1992, almost seven years after the slaying. She had remained free pending appeal of the Jan. 15, 1988, conviction which was ultimately upheld by the state Supreme Court.

The slaying

Pannell, 18, a strikingly beautiful, music major at Northeast, was found bludgeoned to death in her dormitory bed Oct. 8, 1985. The murder weapon, a wooden drill rifle, which she twirled in the college marching band, was found in her blood-spattered room.

After a nearly yearlong investigation, Alexander confessed to an out-of-state interrogator to striking Pannell several times on the head and then arranging the room to make it look like the victim had been raped by someone who entered through the window.

In statements to authorities, Alexander said she burned her own blood-stained clothing and a section of window screen cut from the victim's room, then flushed the debris down the toilet, using another student's perfume to mask the smoke odor.

Alexander claimed she and Pannell quarreled over a boy and that prior to the murder, her suitemate confronted her about cleaning up her room.

Alexander later recanted her confession.

Defense attorney Gerald Chatham of Hernando said Alexander, then 22, was under hypnosis during the interrogation. He said she had been hypnotized by a college counselor who was employed to help students cope with the emotional stress immediately following the grisly campus murder and was still under hypnosis nearly a year later when she confessed.

Investigations

Former Mississippi Highway Patrol Investigator Steve Williams, who was assigned to the case full time for about a year, conducted more than 300 death investigations during his career. The campus murder case was probably the most high-profile because because the victim was a young coed at a college campus.

Williams said he was not surprised that Alexander's parole was denied. Unless something has changed since last year, she is still not taking responsibility for the murder, Williams said. Alexander wrote Williams a letter last year, claiming innocence and asking him to help her solve the murder, he said.

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