Medical examiner: Henderson died from strangulation, blunt force trauma
DAVENPORT — The Rev. Al Henderson died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head along with strangulation, according to the medical examiner who conducted his autopsy.
Iowa State Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Michelle Catellier testified about those results during the jury trial for Josh Pendleton at the Scott County Courthouse on Wednesday.
Pendleton is charged with first degree murder and first degree robbery.
Catellier conducted Henderson’s autopsy at the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s Office in Ankeny on Oct. 3, 2019, the day after Henderson was allegedly assaulted and killed by the defendant.
On Wednesday, she identified a photo showing deep purple bruising around Henderson’s right eye and pointed toward areas on the eyeball and eyelid where she found petechiae, tiny blood hemorrhages often consistent with strangulation.
“Petechiae is one of the hallmarks of strangulation, but can also be caused by blunt force trauma,” she said.
Catellier also showed the jury photos of bruising and hemorrhaging on several places of Henderson’s neck, including petechiae on his larynx, also consistent with strangulation. She noted a mark in the shape of a line several inches long across the neck that was consistent with strangulation and suggests that some tool or implement was used.
“It is in a line that is very regular,” she said.
During the autopsy, Catellier found bruising and several “curved injuries” on Henderson’s face. On the left side, near the left eye and eyebrow, there was what she called a “complicated injury.”
“It includes two lacerations, or tears, that are side by side and … the top part of the injury has scraped the skin away, the skin is piled up on the bottom side of the injury,” she said.
The injury was consistent with a bite mark, the medical examiner testified.
Fractures were found on several of Henderson’s ribs, Catellier said, adding that they could have been caused by inflicted or accidental injury, or even compressions done during resuscitation attempts.
The medical examiner also testified to finding severe hemorrhaging on the back of Henderson’s head and on his brain, consistent with blunt force trauma.
The jury also listened to testimony from Fort Dodge Police Department Evidence Technician Brandi Webb, and viewed pieces of physical evidence, including a rope found at the scene of the crime and the clothing Pendleton was wearing when he was arrested.
Webb noted that the rope had a metal clasp and was looped through the clasp when it was collected.
Defense attorney Michelle Wolf asked why there was no loop in the rope when it was returned from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation lab and objected to the rope being entered as evidence on the grounds that the chain of evidence was not properly maintained. District Court Judge Gina Badding overruled the objection and later DCI forensic investigator Brenda Reinhard testified on the issue.
Reinhard testified that she looked for the presence of blood on four areas of the rope and took swabs of the entire rope, stating that she had to unloop the rope to lay it lengthwise in order to swab it.
Reinhard said she did not find any presence of blood on the rope, but was able to find DNA from at least two individuals, though there was not enough DNA present to build a profile and compare it to any known sample.
Reinhard also processed blood and DNA evidence found on Henderson’s fingernails, building a partial DNA profile consistent with DNA from Pendleton.
She also swabbed the area of Henderson’s right eyebrow and found more of Pendleton’s DNA.
The jury watched and heard body camera footage from then-Sgt. Josh Pyle, jailer at Webster County Jail. The recording came from when FDPD Sgt. Evan Thompson executed a search warrant on Pendleton’s person, taking swabs and photos of Pendleton’s injuries.
“The funny thing is, my elbows,” Pendleton can be heard saying. “We wrestled on concrete for at least five minutes. I bit his face and his head. I pulled his thornbush out with my teeth.”
Pendleton can also be heard asking if it was possible to get DNA off of fingernails and instructing the officers to swab his fingernails.
“You’ll find his DNA right there,” he said.
Pendleton starts saying something about feeling Henderson’s eyeball, but some of the audio was inaudible.
Pendleton continues making unprovoked statements during the recording.
“He did a weird thing,” he said. “Like he stuck his tentacle in my mouth, right here. That’s where he stuck it.”
At one point, Pyle asked Pendleton if he wanted to take a shower before he changed into the jail uniform.
“I showered,” Pendleton said. “I didn’t want his piece of (expletive) stink all over me.”
Pendleton also repeated the phrase “That man about killed me,” several times, not specifying who he was referring to.
Pendleton could also be heard joking around with Pyle and made comments about Detective Larry Hedlund, calling him a “dirty detective” and “bad lieutenant.”
Defense attorney Michelle Wolf cross-examined Pyle, asking if he had heard Pendleton make any statements that seemed unusual.
“He had several statements that seemed unusual to me,” Pyle said..
Pyle also testified that he knew of Pendleton as someone with mental health issues and had not heard him use the strange accent that he was speaking in that night before.
Wolf also asked Pyle about an incident that occurred at the jail on Oct. 14, 2019.
“Do you recall Mr. Pendleton saying something to you on that day to the effect of ‘I’m innocent in the sense that what I did was justified’?” she asked.
Pyle answered that he did remember and that he had made a report about the incident.
While cross-examining Thompson, Wolf asked if he had conducted a “full and fair investigation,” including seeking exculpatory evidence that may provide possible defenses to the crime.
“I believe so, yes,” Thompson answered.
Wolf asked about the 24 individuals Thompson interviewed during the investigation, including the defendant’s mother, Heidi Pendleton.
Thompson testified he interviewed Heidi Pendleton to see if the defendant had talked to her the day of the crime and to determine if the defendant owned a cell phone.
Wolf said that Heidi Pendleton had brought up the defendant’s mental health history and specific incidents she had with the defendant during the interview.
“Did you make any attempt to corroborate what she told you?” Wolf asked.
Thompson said he had followed up on information gathered from Heidi Pendleton, but did not specify what information he had followed up on.
Wolf continued, asking if Thompson had looked into any prior contact the defendant had with police that Heidi Pendleton had brought up. Thompson indicated he reviewed previous calls for service regarding the defendant, including law enforcement serving mental health papers to him, but he did not find that information relevant to the investigation into Henderson’s death.
Josh Pendleton’s trial will continue on Thursday with testimony from Hedlund, who interviewed the defendant after he was arrested.
Follow @KelbyWingert on Twitter for live coverage of the trial.