My Step Niece
Daughter of Tom Gray & Jean Gray Ulmer.
Stepdaughter of Sandy Koper Dzwonik (my sister) & Julian "Sandy" Ulmer.
Sister of Earl Gray.
Stepsister of Mike Dzwonik.
Mother of Stephanie Pann.
Murder Victim, her body has never been found.
A summary of Bernice's story from MICHIGAN DOES:
Bernice Charlotte Gray
Missing since: December 26, 1991
Classification: Endangered Missing
Bernice was last seen in St. Clair Shores dropping off her toddler at day care around 6:30 a.m. the morning of December 26, 1991. A neighbor in the area reported, and later testified to, hearing a gunshot around that same time. Bernice never showed up to work in Southfield that morning, and her bloodstained car was found four days later on Detroit's east side with two empty bullet casings inside. DNA tests later proved the blood in Bernice's car matched her own. The Macomb County medical examiner ruled Bernice was murdered based on the shell casings and amount of blood and brain matter in her car; and investigators believe she was shot twice in the head at a stop sign at the intersection of Gordon and Florence.
It is thought that Bernice was buried for a short period of time in a shallow grave on the outskirts of a 17-acre field where cadaver dogs picked up her scent. A Stephen King novel -- with pages bent dog-earred as Bernice was accustomed -- was found in the same area. It is believe her body was later moved from the shallow grave and reburied on land near the Ashland Chemical plant on Hoover near Toepfer, because Bernice's ex-boyfriend , Robert Pann, was charged in 1993 with filing a false police report after he told police a backhoe he owned was missing. The same backhoe later was found near a site at Hoover and Toepfer. Bernice's family believes she is buried somewhere near that site.
In January 2001, Robert Pann was convicted of first-degree murder by a circuit court jury for Bernice's murder. He was sentenced to a mandatory penalty of life in prison.
...Murder case resurfaces with ruling...
Prosecutor confident that appeals court won't hear convict's case..
PUBLISHED: July 20, 2006
By Jameson Cook
Macomb Daily Staff Writer
In a case that appeared to arise from oblivion, a Macomb Circuit Court judge recently ruled against ordering a new trial for a man convicted for a 1991 murder more than nine years after it happened and in which the victim's body was never found.
Robert William Pann, 47, lost his request for a new trial in a May ruling by Judge Donald Miller for the slaying of his girlfriend, Bernice Gray, but will be able to seek an appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
The ruling affirmed the prosecution's belief that the conviction is permanent, but a Pann representative saw it as a glimmer of hope to win the case on appeal.
"He can seek a leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals, but the odds of getting that are infinitesimal," said assistant Macomb prosecutor Steven Kaplan, who prosecuted the case in 2001. Kaplan said that the Court of Appeals agreeing to hear the appeal is very unlikely because no new information has arisen in the case.
However, Paul Slavin, a legal researcher for Pann's attorney, James Lawrence, said that although Pann lost the ruling, the fact that Miller allowed Pann's motion to be heard provides a real chance for the verdict to be overturned or to be granted a new trial on appeal. A brief is due Sept. 6.
Julian "Sandy" Ulmer, Bernice Gray's stepfather, said Wednesday he was disappointed that Miller agreed to hear the case and fears that the appeals court will hear the case.
"I have a constant fear that somebody will generate some angle -- that has nothing to do with guilt or innocence -- to upset the apple cart," Ulmer said. "There's no finality to this the way it's going.
"It hasn't opened new wounds because the old wounds never closed."
Pann was convicted of first-degree murder by a circuit court jury in January 2001 and was sentenced to a mandatory penalty of life in prison for the death of Gray, 23, who was last seen Dec. 26, 1991, in St. Clair Shores.
The fact that the motion for a new trial was heard nearly five years after Pann's conviction resulted from an error in the legal system.
Kaplan said Pann missed the deadline for an appeal, but Slavin said Pann's appellate attorney at the time did file a motion for a new trial in a timely manner, but that the motion was never considered by the prior circuit judge, George Montgomery.
The error occurred when transcripts from the trial were never filed with the circuit court, and one day of the testimony was missing when a substitute court reporter filled in and only recently filed, Slavin said.
Miller said in his ruling that transcripts were not filed with the court until Dec. 6, 2005.
Kaplan said he disputes that version of the events.
"He forfeited his appeal," Kaplan insisted. "He tried to do an end-around in the appeal system."
The process also created a delay in Gray's family collecting $102,000 in restitution from Pann, ordered by then-judge Montgomery.
Pann still owns a house on Coleman Street in Clinton Township from which Ulmer and Gray's father are attempting to garner restitution funds (Gray's mother, Jean Gray Ulmer, has forfeited her proportion to her husband). A stay was issued on that case by Judge Mary Chrzanowski due to the lack of an outcome in Pann's criminal appeal.
"It'd be nice to have that money to pay bills and pay for expenses for (Gray and Pann's daughter)," Ulmer said.
The girl, now 16, is living with the Ulmers and "is in high school and doing well," said Ulmer, who declined to elaborate.
The Coleman house has been cited in recent months for blight. Clinton Township recently filed for approval in Macomb Circuit Court to remove old cars and junk from outside the home. The home has been empty since at least last December, said Mike Gentry, assistant building superintendent in the township.
Robert Pann was always a primary suspect in Bernice Gray's disappearance.
She was last seen by a day-care operator as she was dropping off her daughter at 6:30 a.m. the day after Christmas on Gordon Street. She never showed up for her hospital job in Southfield.
A neighbor of the daycare home testified he heard a gunshot in the area that morning.
Gray had broken up with Pann earlier that month and rejected his Dec. 24 marriage proposal. Gray's car was found abandoned in Detroit four days after she was reported missing, and her blood was found inside the vehicle.
She was declared dead by a judge in 1995.
A year later Pann attacked his wife, Maureen Pann, in a manner that police said was similar to the circumstances surrounding the incident involving Gray. He was convicted in 1996 of assault with intent to do great bodily harm and ordered to spend six to 10 years in prison.
Pann's expected release in 2001 from prison prompted prosecutors to seek the murder charge against Pann in 2000, "in a now-or-never scenario," Kaplan said.
The murder conviction was the first in Macomb County in which a body was never actually found.
In his May 12, 23-page ruling, Miller concludes: "The overwhelming circumstantial evidence cuts in the prosecution's favor such that it militates against the granting of a new trial. Any errors made were either harmless or cured, and there is nothing to show that a miscarriage of justice has resulted."
Kaplan said the only way a court would rehear the case is if new evidence arose, such as in other cases nationally in which DNA evidence became available.
Sadly, Bernice's cousin Garnet Lennox was murdered in 2007.
BELOVED DAUGHTER & MOTHER
BERNICE C. GRAY
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