Pendleton trial to resume today
Defendant charged in former St. Paul pastor's death
DAVENPORT — The first-degree murder trial of a Fort Dodge man accused of attacking and killing a local pastor will continue today at the Scott County Courthouse.
Joshua Pendleton, 37, is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the death of the Rev. Al Henderson, who was killed outside St. Paul Lutheran Church on Oct. 2, 2019. Pendleton’s trial venue was moved to Scott County by order of the court.
The first week of the trial started on April 19 with jury selection. By the end of the day, a 12-member jury, plus three alternates, were selected, though jury selection had originally been expected to take at least two days.
Testimony began on April 20 with the jury hearing from the witnesses who first discovered Henderson after he had been attacked.
Erika Kasperbauer, who was at the church that night to assist with confirmation class, testified that Henderson’s face was “black and blue,” he had some marks on his forehead and there was blood coming from under his head.
“I considered Pastor Henderson as a tall, tough guy, and he looked old and frail,” she said.
The jury also heard from Robyn Kratz, a teacher at St. Paul Lutheran School, who was leaving work around the time of the attack and had noticed Pendleton walking east on the sidewalk.
“He was mumbling to himself in a very angry tone,” she said. “I did say hello and it was just a (grunt sound). I could tell he wasn’t happy.”
It wasn’t until seeing Pendleton’s face on the news the next morning that Kratz knew who she had seen.
Fort Dodge Police Department Sgt. Evan Thompson, who was the lead investigator on the case, described the scene at the church as “hectic.”
“There was a lot of law enforcement there — both on duty and those who had been called off duty and were wearing plain clothing,” he said.
On Wednesday, the jury heard testimony from Iowa State Associate Medical Examiner Michelle Catellier that Henderson had died as a result of strangulation and blunt force trauma.
Catellier 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.
The medical examiner also testified about bite marks found around Henderson’s left eyebrow.
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation forensic investigator Brenda Reinhard testified about finding the defendant’s DNA on several areas of the victim’s body, including near his left eye and eyebrow.
The jury watched and heard body camera footage from then-Sgt. Josh Pyle, jailer at the Webster County Jail. The recording came from when 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.”
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.”
On Thursday, the prosecution wrapped up its case with testimony from FDPD Detective Larry Hedlund.
Iowa Assistant Attorney General Doug Hammerand asked why Hedlund — who testified to being a close, personal friend of Henderson’s — had decided to conduct Pendleton’s interview the night of the crime, rather than pass it on to another investigator.
Hedlund testified that it was a spontaneous decision and was not discussed at length.
“I have more experience than anybody there in the Police Department and I felt like I had a responsibility to do the interview,” he said.
He then estimated that in his 34-year career in law enforcement, he had worked on “hundreds” of homicide and death investigations, and there aren’t any other detectives in the FDPD with that many cases.
The jury watched the 25-minute video and audio recording of Hedlund’s interview with Pendleton at the Law Enforcement Center.
“I don’t need legal representation,” Pendleton can be heard saying. “I have the truth.”
Pendleton told Hedlund that he had been walking home when he heard a little girl screaming and had seen Henderson with his hands on a little girl. He described confronting the pastor at the back door of the church.
When Henderson came to the door, “I smelled a child molester,” Pendleton said.
The defense asserts that this was a delusion Pendleton was suffering at the time, and the defendant’s accusations about Henderson are not and were not based in reality.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Michelle Wolf asked if Hedlund had believed Pendleton’s reasons for assaulting Henderson when he conducted the interview, and Hedlund confirmed that he did not.
“It didn’t cross your mind that this was a legitimate delusion, correct?” Wolf asked.
“Correct,” Hedlund answered.
After the prosecution rested its case, the defense got started with calling several members of law enforcement to the stand to testify.
Wolf aimed to emphasize the defendant as someone with a “reputation as someone with mental health issues” and to highlight concerns about Hedlund’s participation in the investigation because of his close relationship with the victim.
On Friday, the defendant’s mother testified that just two weeks before her son allegedly attacked and killed the victim, she had tried to have him civilly committed to a psychiatric hospital.
“The last time I saw him (before the attack), he was extremely mentally ill at the time and I really seeked a lot of help,” Heidi Pendleton testified. “I kept calling the mental health center. I went to the courthouse to try to talk to a judge to get him committed back to Cherokee (Mental Health Institute) for a while.”
She testified that her son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia around the age of 20 and had a history of going off of his psychiatric medication and she believed he had not been taking his medication when she saw him prior to Henderson’s death.
The defense will continue its case to the jury today. The trial is expected to wrap up in the coming days, with a verdict coming before the weekend.
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