BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — A man convicted of murdering a baby twenty years ago in Kern County was recommended for early release a few months ago. But that was reversed when Governor Gavin Newsom stepped in. Tuesday, the mother of the victim said she feels a lot different from earlier this year.
“Smiles on my face since yesterday. I’ve just been non-stop smiling,” said Tammy Bell, Johnathen Bell’s mother.
Tammy feels like the justice system didn’t fail her or her baby who was taken from her more than two decades ago.
“It’s been a nightmare for the last 22 years, it has, and this day is finally came and I can never be more happier,” said Bell.
The reason for Tammy’s happiness is because the man who killed her son, Micheal Panella won’t be released from prison early. In 2000, he was convicted of first-degree murder by torture of a 20-month-old infant, Johnathen Bell, and was sentenced to 25-to life.
Around three months ago, after only 20 years of his sentence, the parole board recommended Panella for early release. The only way to overturn that would be if Governor Gavin Newsom stepped in and he did.
“My son’s voice was heard,” said Tammy.
As were the voices of the community, his mother, her family, and friends., and the District Attorney’s Office.
“We were his voice of this baby that was murdered 20 years ago. This office was his voice and we will continue to be his voice because we think this killer needs to be held accountable for the outrageous torture and murder that he committed upon this baby,” said Cynthia Zimmer, Kern County District Attorney.
In a statement from Newsom’s office, he wrote, “I find the evidence shows that he currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time. Therefore, I reverse the decision to parole, Mr. Panella.”
Zimmer who disagreed with the parole board’s decision applauded Newsom.
“20 years is not enough in prison for someone who tortured and murdered a 20-month-old baby, and I’m glad that governor Newsom and I can at least agree on that,” said Zimmer.
Tammy said in the past three months, she tried to do everything she could to help reverse the board’s recommendation.
“We put petitions out, we did petitions online, we walked the streets, we held up signs, hundreds of emails to the governor. I tried to do everything I could as a mother should do. I will fight for my son Johnathen and it’s never going to stop,” said Tammy.
Saturday marks 22 years since Johnathen died, so Tammy is holding a candlelight vigil right here at the Liberty Bell to make sure her son is never forgotten.
When Tammy found out in July that Michael Panella could be released, she remembers feeling like she was living through that tragedy all over again. According to documents from the DA’s office, Panella had also tried harming the baby’s brother and mother as well. So, Tammy was concerned about her and her family’s safety if Panella was set free.
“It’s been rough, very rough, not knowing what’s going to happen. Not knowing what am I going to tell my two kids. What to expect if I had to move or not cause I was going to plan to move out of state cause I can’t do it here with him out,” said Tammy.
But now, she said the decision has brought her some peace and said her son would be proud of her.
“I can’t put it all the way behind me because it’s something that I wake up every day thinking of but, I’m going to try to live my life now. I need to live my life now, put it behind me,” said Tammy.