Until Proven Innocent
Could the real-life Kojak help save
a man from the electric chair?
Real life Kojak saves defendant electric chair

REAL-LIFE KOJAK CATCHES A KILLER

He quits retirement to free innocent man

A former New York City cop whose exploits inspired

TV's Kojak has come out of retirement

to solve a baffling murder mystery.

Super-sleuth Thomas Cavanagh, 79,

cleared the prime suspect in the case

-- and fingered the real suspect.

Cavanagh was sunning himself by the pool

at his Florida home when his son Brian,

a prosecutor in Fort Lauderdale, called.

"Dad, I have a problem with this case,"

Brian said. "What should I do?"

--Globe Magazine

 

UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT begins with a night 911 call from a woman gasping her last breaths. When police arrived at the house they found her dead, stabbed, and her husband, infant, and father-in-law all shot point-blank. They would survive.

 

Minutes later, a man also called 911, a gunman had released him from a robbery at the same house. He said he knew of no violence before he left. Yet he was the only one who the gunman hadn't tried to kill. Police instantly suspected him.

 

That night and long after, police tried to shake the man, Chuck Panoyan, who insisted he didn't know who the gunman was.

 

Police guessed right. A tip led them to the gunman, and that led to a cross-country trip Panoyan took to see him. Both were arrested, and prosecutor Brian Cavanagh won a death penalty indictment against them both.

 

But in pretrial, Panoyan's attorneys unraveled Cavanagh's case against their client. No longer certain Panoyan was guilty, Cavanagh reached No Man's Land: his choice was to let the jury sort it out, or admit he was wrong about Panoyan for now three years.

 

Cavanagh's dad Tom was a retired NYPD lieutenant who'd had a double murder he couldn't solve, then at another precinct a suspect confessed. Tom recognized it had been coerced and quietly asked his detectives if they could prove it wrong. When they did, the case became famous for police integrity. A TV movie renamed Tom's character: Kojak.

 

Years later, son Brian was at a similar turning point, but Panoyan wouldn't open up to him. Who was the only one could make Panoyan comfortable enough to talk? The old man, the real-life Kojak, Tom Cavanagh.