Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Bronx man is under arrest in New Jersey in connection with a murder dating back three decades

Alan Feuer:

Thomas Atkinson, 43, faced charges Tuesday accusing him in the 1976 stabbing death of Joyce Paneck-Saglimbene, 27, in Englewood, N.J.

The ordinary life of Thomas Atkinson began five years ago when he got out of prison — for the fifth time.

He was working, married, living in the Bronx and going with his teenage son to barbecues and ballgames. It seemed like quite the turnaround for a career criminal who, in the 20 years from 1981 to 2001, had been free for only 4.

Though Mr. Atkinson had paid his dues for a list of crimes — assault, burglary and possession of stolen property — officials said that until this week, he had gotten away with his worst. On Monday, he was arrested yet again and charged with murder in a 30-year-old case: the fatal stabbing of Joyce Paneck-Saglimbene in New Jersey, committed, officials say, when he was just 13.

That Mr. Atkinson had been returned to jail for the events of May 14, 1976, when Ms. Paneck-Saglimbene, of Long Island, was found dead in a parking lot in Englewood, N.J., shocked his friends and neighbors — though only slightly less than the arrest shocked the victim’s family.

In the Morris Heights section of the Bronx, where Mr. Atkinson has lived on and off for about seven years, his neighbors described a pleasant, happy-go-lucky man who, at local fish fries, liked nothing better than to win a smile as he manned the fire. In the southern New Jersey community of Browns Mills, Richard Paneck, the victim’s brother, described a shocking pair of phone calls, 30 years apart: the first in 1976 to inform the family of his sister’s death; the second this week to inform him that Mr. Atkinson had been caught.

Mr. Atkinson, now 43, was 13 at the time of Ms. Paneck-Saglimbene’s death. While he was arraigned yesterday in Bergen County Family Court, where he pleaded not guilty, John L. Molinelli, the county prosecutor, said that he planned to try him in Superior Court as an adult.

That could be difficult, said Alan Zegas, a criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey. He said that at the time of the killing, the legal standard for prosecuting minors as adults was stricter than today and centered on the question of whether a suspect could be rehabilitated. These days, Mr. Zegas said, the severity of a crime is often the determining factor in trying a minor as an adult. The question remaining to be answered, he added, is which standard the court will apply.

The police in Englewood have long believed that Ms. Paneck-Saglimbene, 27, was the victim of a robbery gone wrong. They say that on the day of her death, she left her desk at Diebold Computer Leasing to meet some friends for lunch. At the last minute, she changed her mind and went instead to cross an errand off her list: buying plants.

That led her to the underground parking lot at Dean and Chestnut Streets, where the authorities say Mr. Atkinson was waiting. He had a knife, they say, and when his victim resisted, he stabbed her up to 19 times.

Suspect held on $2M bail

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