The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 7, 2013

Man draws prison term in girl’s death

Patrick Buchnowski

EBENSBURG — Raegan Panick, a trusting 22-month-old girl who loved to play in her sandbox, was brutally murdered in

August 2012 after being left with her mother’s boyfriend.

On Thursday, the boyfriend – Patrick L. Burkett, 26, of Beaverdale – was sentenced in Cambria County court to 13 to  30 years in state prison for third-degree murder.

President Judge Timothy Creany imposed the sentence on Burkett, who admitted killing the child.

Creany asked Burkett to explain why he killed the girl.

“It’s puzzling to me why it happened and how it happened,” Creany said.

“It was just one of those days,” Burkett said. “I just lost it. I shook her and hit her head on the floor. I don’t know why I did it.

“I’m very sorry to RaeAnn

and her family for what I did,” he said.

About 20 family members attended the sentencing. Three offered emotional statements, asking the Creany to impose the maximum sentence. The judge gave Burkett the maximum sentence according to sentencing guidelines.

“She was my only child,” RaeAnn George said as she fought back tears.

“I spent her third birthday at her grave,” she said. “I’ll never get to hold her or kiss her ever again.”

Maternal grandmother Gail George said the girl trusted Burkett because her mother trusted him.

“The person who was supposed to protect her took her life and tried to cover it up,” she said.

Investigators at the time said Burkett was baby-sitting the toddler while her mother was at work. The mother found Raegan unresponsive when she returned home. The girl was taken to Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown and then flown by medical helicopter to Pittsburgh, where she died a day later.

Investigators said Burkett initially offered several reasons for the child’s injuries, including falls in different areas of the house and outside.

Assistant District Attorney Beth Bolton Penna said the girl died from massive head injuries equivalent to a fall from a three-story building. The hemorrhaging was so severe that if Raegan had survived she would have been blind in both eyes, she said.

“Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh said it was one of the worst cases of child abuse they’ve seen,” Bolton Penna said.

Burkett sat between public defenders Patricia Moore and John Lovette III with his face buried in his hands. He sobbed as he listened to family members recall the cheerful little girl they called an angel.

“Reagan was a little angel,” paternal grandmother Betty Gordon said. “I can’t imagine  why anyone would do that to an innocent baby.”

Burkett told the judge he has never been in jail before and has a child he wishes to care for.

Bolton Penna said Burkett’s daughter is the same age as Raegan was at the time she was killed.

“This is not the type of person who should be allowed to parent a child,” she said.