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Prosecution rests, defense starts with witnesses

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
The jury watched a recording of part of FDPD Detective Larry Hedlund's interview with Josh Pendleton after he was arrested on Oct. 2, 2019.

DAVENPORT — A jury heard from Fort Dodge Police Department Detective Larry Hedlund on Thursday as the prosecution closed out its case in the Joshua Pendleton murder trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport.

Pendleton is charged with first degree murder and first degree robbery in connection with the death of the Rev. Al Henderson.

While on the witness stand, Hedlund testified that he had been close personal friends with Henderson, for several years when he was killed on Oct. 2, 2019.

Hedlund testified about his arrival at the crime scene at St. Paul Lutheran Church shortly after 6 p.m. that day. He said when he arrived at the church, officers were still clearing the scene and sweeping through the building in search of a possible perpetrator, so he assisted with the sweep. He noted that inside the back doorway near the church’s fellowship hall, he found an area of wall that had a hole in it, and outside there was damage to the nearby fence and an item on the ground that appeared to be a rope.

“It appeared a violent confrontation took place in this area,” Hedlund said.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
FDPD Detective Larry Hedlund took the witness stand at Josh Pendleton's trial in Scott County on Thursday.

When officers started circulating a photo of an individual recorded on the church’s security camera system, Hedlund and other officers eventually identified Pendleton and started heading toward his apartment at 1426 Fourth Ave. S., approximately two blocks east of the church.

Hedlund echoed previous testimony that the jury had heard about officers arriving at Pendleton’s apartment and finding the door ajar and lights and music on inside. He testified that while then-Lt. Dennis Quinn went around to the back of the building, Hedlund went inside the apartment with then-Detective Evan Thompson and Sgt. Zach Stanely to determine if Pendleton was present. After clearing the apartment, the officers were exiting as Pendleton started walking up to the porch.

Pendleton was then detained and brought to the Webster County Law Enforcement Center to be interviewed by Hedlund.

Iowa Assistant Attorney General Doug Hammerand asked why Hedlund had decided to conduct Pendleton’s interview, 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.

Hedlund testified that he advised Pendleton of his Miranda rights and that Pendleton had read the Miranda waiver prior to signing it and continuing with the interview.

During the interview, Hedlund testified, Pendleton told him he heard a girl screaming, saw children’s toys in a nearby parked car and was ringing a buzzer near a door to the church, trying to get someone’s attention.

“At one point, he described putting a rope around Al’s neck and trying to pull him out of the building,” Hedlund said.

He added that Pendleton told him that Henderson had “put up a very violent fight” for Henderson’s cell phone, which the defendant was in possession of when he was taken into custody.

The jury then watched the 25-minute video and audio recording of Hedlund’s interview with Pendleton at the LEC.

“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 is expected to assert that this was a delusion Pendleton was suffering at that time, and the defendant’s accusations about Henderson are not and were not based in reality.

“I put the rope around his neck and we got to struggling and when he got the rope off of him, he got me and I couldn’t punch him,” the defendant continued in the recording.

Pendleton kept repeating that Henderson was “too strong.”

“I bit him in the head because he was overpowering me,” Pendleton told Hedlund.

The defendant said he struggled with the victim for Henderson’s cell phone because he thought the pastor had been recording a sex act. Again, the defense will later assert that this was a delusion suffered by Pendleton.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Michelle Wolf asked if Hedlund had believed Pendleton’s reasons for assaulting Henderson when he conducted that 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.

Wolf pressed on, asking if Hedlund’s relationship with the victim “colored his ability” to consider the possibility that Pendleton was suffering from a delusion.

“The issue of it never came up during this interview of it being a delusion,” Hedlund testified. “But I don’t think it colored or impacted whether I believed this was a delusion, as you called it.”

Wolf later asked Hedlund if he noticed anything “abnormal” about the way Pendleton was behaving during his interview, aside from speaking in an accent that has been previously reported on.

“On that day, I didn’t know what his normal is,” Hedlund testified. “I was experiencing Josh Pendleton for the first time … so I don’t know what his normal is.”

Wolf asked about the history of the DCI being brought in to lead or assist in murder investigations for the Fort Dodge Police Department, which Hedlund confirmed has happened “occasionally.”

“But you chose to interview Josh … even though Al Henderson was your best friend?” Wolf asked.

“That’s true,” Hedlund answered.

As Hedlund left the witness stand, the state rested its case, turning the trial over to the defense.

With the first seven witnesses Wolf called to the stand on Thursday — all members of law enforcement — the defense 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.

FDPD Officer Matt Burns, who was the patrol officer that transported the defendant to the LEC for his interview, testified that he had knowledge that Pendleton was taking medication, though he didn’t know specifically what it treated, and that he knew Pendleton had a mental health history.

Questioning FDPD Sgt. Jody Chansler, Wolf asked if he recalled a service call he responded to on Aug. 11, 2019, involving a domestic disturbance between Pendleton and his mother.

“At that time, you described Josh as ‘highly 10-96,'” Wolf said. “What does that mean?”

“It’s a catch-all for a person acting abnormal,” Chansler answered.

On cross-examination from the state, Chansler also testified that at the resolution to that domestic call, Pendleton walked away and was not taken to mental health treatment by law enforcement.

Capt. Dennis Quinn was also asked about Pendleton’s reputation as someone with mental health problems.

“I can’t answer for what other people would say, but I know that I have had some dealings with Josh,” he said, later specifying that he has responded to previous mental health calls regarding the defendant.

On the night of the crime, Quinn had been with other officers, including Hedlund, at the defendant’s residence when Pendleton walked up. Quinn testified that he noticed that Hedlund was visibly upset.

“I knew he was close to Al,” Quinn said. “I put an arm on him and told him to take a breath.”

FDPD Detective Keaton Lunn testified that in 2016, he had responded to an incident with Pendleton at which he described the defendant as “10-96.”

Lunn said that Pendleton had made some statements about human flesh being in a garbage bin and concerns about another party going to a bar and drinking alcohol and possibly being a sex abuser. Pendleton thought someone was cutting people up and putting them in the garbage bin behind his apartment, Lunn testified.

“Did you believe what Josh was saying?” Wolf asked.

“Given his social skills, I did not,” Lunn answered.

On cross-examination from the state, Lunn testified that the department uses the “10-96” code broadly, sometimes to just describe someone being “weird.”

He also testified that during the 2016 incident with Pendleton, Lunn didn’t believe the circumstances were so severe as to have Pendleton committed for mental health concerns.

The fifth witness called by the defense was DCI Special Agent Ray Fiedler, who testified that he was just a few minutes away from St. Paul Lutheran Church when he received the call about the homicide and came to the scene to assist the local police, but he did not take any control of the investigation and was not asked to.

FDPD Detective Tom Steck testified about interviewing the defendant’s mother and said she told him she was “in fear of Josh” and they had talked about two past incidents where she was assaulted by the defendant.

FDPD Sgt. Evan Thompson, who was a detective at the time of the crime, testified that he was aware of Hedlund’s close relationship with Henderson.

“Did you have any concerns about someone with a close personal relationship with the decedent interviewing the suspect?” Wolf asked.

Thompson’s response was short — “No.”

The defense will continue with its case on Friday before the court goes into recess for the weekend.

Follow @KelbyWingert on Twitter for live coverage of the trial.

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