In 2002, Sarah Jo Pender received a life sentence for a crime she did not commit. She has maintained her innocence ever since. The man who committed the murders has admitted having a forgery made that was used as evidence against her in court. Sarah Jo Pender asks for her freedom, exoneration of murder and having her honor restored.
During the night of October 24th, 2000, around 11.30 pm in Indianapolis, Sarah Jo's former boyfriend, Richard Hull, killed their roommates, Andrew Cataldi and Patricia Nordman. Cataldi and Nordman were fugitives from Nevada. To commit the murder, he used a gun Sarah Jo had legally purchased on that very morning as a mean of self defense. The shooting occurred during a heated argument between Hull and Cataldi, while Sarah Jo was gone from the house to take a walk. Cataldi, Nordman and Hull were three drug dealers. Sarah Jo was the only one who held a regular job. She had only dated Richard Hull for two months. It was him who had introduced Cataldi and Nordmann to her.
By the time Sarah Jo came back, Richard Hull had already wrapped the bodies in blankets and loaded them in a pick up truck he had borrowed from a friend. Finding herself in the middle of a bloody crime scene, Sarah Jo, disoriented, accompanied him to a place located four blocks away where he got rid of the bodies, throwing them in a dumpster. Richard Hull then drove a car-wash to clean the pick up. The couple then came back to the house. Sarah Jo refused to sleep there so where they picked up a few personal belongings and went to Lapel, Indiana, where they slept briefly at a friend's place.
They came back the following morning. Hull tried cleaned up the house while Sarah Jo went to work.
The bodies were discovered on October 25, 2000 and the couple was arrested in Noblesville on October 26, 2000.
Sarah Jo later explained : “After he committed these murders, I did not call the police, but instead stayed with him out of love, fear,loyalty and sheer stupidity.”
Sarah Jo Pender went on trial at Marion Superior Court in July 2002. She was found guilty of a double homicide and got an 110 years sentence in august 2002. For Sarah Jo Pender and her followers, this sentencing was a miscarriage of justice due to use of forged evidence, dubious snitch testimony and bad lawyering.
A main evidence used against Sarah Jo Pender was a letter she allegedly wrote and sent to Richard Hull on May 16th, 2001. Several facts clearly indicate that this is a forgery.
In a June 2003 notarized, signed affidavit
, Richard Hull explained : “On the day of october 24, 2000 I was the one who shot and killed Andrew S cataldi and Trish Nordman. Sarah J. Pender did not commit this crime. She did not print the letter. I had Steve Logan print the letter while we were in the same block at the Marion County Jail.) I did this so I could get a good plea. She did not know that this was going to happen. I have been carrying this burdon for some time now. I would like to make right on the wrongs that have been done to Ms. Pender. I have Drew and Trishs lives on my hands I cant have Sarahs. The only reason she was with me after the crime was that she was scared for her life(...)” -
Click on the picture to read the affidavit.
2 - Sarah Jo Pender's fingerprints were never found on the letter. However both Hull's and his accomplice Logan's were.
3 - Between May 16th, 2001 and September-October 2001, time at which Hull gave the letter to his attorney, his cell had been searched on july 17th 2001 and his mail ceased, yet the letter was not found. None of the ceased letter contained any information about Sarah Jo Pender's possible guilt and they were never used in court.
4 - The events described in the letter did not even match those described in Floyd Pennington's testimony against Sarah Pender.
5 - In 2010, an independent expert found the letter to be a forgery.
For these reasons, Sarah Jo Pender and her supporters claim that the analysis conducted by the state was erroneous and the letter is a forgery.
Jail Snitch testimony
The main witness against Sarah Jo Pender was Floyd Pennington, a convict who had engaged in a letter exchange with her. He claimed Sarah Jo Pender had admitted her guilt to him during a meeting he set up with the help of former Indianapolis PD Detective Kenneth Martinez. Sarah Jo Pender and her supporters claims this testimony is a lie.
Pennington and Pender were never left without guard supervision during the meeting.
2- Pennington was waiting for sentencing on a robbery and unlawful firearm possession. He was sentenced 11 days after agreeing to testify against her. He was then lightly sentenced.
In court, Pennington contradicted his statement to the police. The prosecutor cut him and made him read that statement so that he would remember what he was supposed to say
His statement did not matched facts mentioned in the forged letter, also used as evidence.
Members of the Jury were not made aware (as wasn't Pender) of Pennington's full criminal background, in particular a child molesting charge for which he had received a five year sentence. (Pennington is currently serving time for a rape he committed in 2008, less than one year after going out of jail). Click on the picture, left, to access Pennington's Full criminal background.
Click here to see the Snitch list released by the Indianapolis Star
6 - a list written by Floyd Pennington, on which he offered to provide testimony-on-demand against many other persons, was never presented at the trial and to the defense.
Sarah Jo Pender and her supporters claim that when Detective Kenneth Martinez allowed a meeting to take place with such a dubious character he did no less than fabricating evidence against her. Furthermore, Detective Martinez commited a grave violation of Sarah Pender's rights when he hid the existence of his witness' "shopping list" to both the defense and the prosecution. It comes as no surprise that Detective Kenneth Martinez had a shameful end of career in another police departement for tampering with evidence. ( Read More about Kenneth Martinez)
Misinterpretation of fact
Another testimony used against Sarah Jo Pender was that her neighbor Ed Leggon. Going outside his house at 2am, he saw two silhouettes laying a blanket in the bed of a pick-up truck parked in front of the house. While Ed Leggon could not say what he saw precisely, the prosecution claimed that he had seen Sarah Jo Pender help Richard Hull load the bodies into the truck. However, crime scene pictures show trails of blood going from the front room to the backdoor, where Richard Hull discretely loaded the bodies in the truck. No traces of blood are close to the Front door. What Ed Leggon saw was Sarah Jo Pender loading personal belongings in the truck more than one hour after the bodies were dumped by Richard Hull.
The fact that Sarah Jo Pender bought the murder weapon on the very morning of the murder has been presented as a proof of premeditation on her behalf. However, Sarah Jo Pender legally purchased the weapon in her own name. In fact, Richard Hull convinced Sarah Jo to buy a gun because he couldn't get one any other way. Sarah Jo, who had been raped a few months before, had been threatened several times in the previous weeks and was thus easy to convince to make that purchase for self defense.
Bad circumstances surrounding trial.
Supporters of Sarah Pender point out that, between the murders and the trial, the 9/11 attacks created a lynching atmosphere in courtrooms around the country against people accused of a crime. Sarah Jo Pender's is a textbook exemple of this. Alltough the murders had to do with drugs, Larry Sells, the Prosecutor refered to the 9/11 attacks when he told the Jury : "Sarah Pender may not be Osama Bin laden, who killed thousands of people, but she's a domestic terrorist nonetheless.” It should be noted that, while preparing for the trial, this Prosecutor was running in the republican primaries in a bid to become Prosecutor in a neighboring county. His campaign theme was tough sentencing for criminal. He was defeated a few weeks before the trial.
Prosecutor Larry Sells now regrets these comments. A man of integrity, Larry Sells contacted Sarah's family in 2013 and offered to help to get her a new trial based on new evidence, after Floyd Pennington's Snitch list surfaced. He has stated on several occasions that, regardless of his own opinion regarding Sarah's alleged guilt, he believes that Sarah jo Pender didn't get a proper defense or a fair trial.
Before and during her trial, Sarah Jo Pender was very poorly defended by public attorney James Nave. Her lawyer, who expected her to accept a plea bargain, never bothered to seriously prepare for the trial.
In 2008, Sarah Jo Pender escaped from Rockville Correctional Facility. She had secured the help of Prison Guard Scott Spitler, who expected a $15000 payment (read court documents). The escape took place without violence of any kind and no one, at any moment, was coerced into assisting her.
During her time on the run, Sarah Jo Pender led an uneventful and discreet life, not unlike that of thousands of illegal aliens who have to manage, by whatever means, to find work and make a living. She went by the name Ashley Thompson and had a lover. She did not resist arrest.
In july 2013, Cara Wieneke -Sarah Jo Pender's current lawyer - asked for a reduced sentence in a 40 page petition given to the Marion County prosecutor's office. Terry Curry, the marion County prosecutor, didn't grant it. Cara Wieneke announced that she would petition the Indiana Court of Appeals for a new post-conviction relief hearing. The request was denied in february 2014.
An account of Sarah Pender's escape was published by journalist Steve Miller. This account contains many inaccuracies and misleading quotes, extensively described on this site (read debunking girl wanted). However, his investigation turned up Floyd Pennington's snitch list (not that he cared to explain its importance) and in 2013, former Prosecutor Larry Sells said that reading the book made him reconsider the fairness of Sarah's 2002 trial.
In april 2012, a Jupiter Entertainment produced show, "Snapped", released an episod about the Sarah Pender Case. It was the first accurate, honest documentary about Sarah Pender's case. Because Larry Sells hadn't yet attracted attention on the importance of Floyd Pennington's Snitch list, the show centers mostly on the controversial may 16th 2001 (or "My dearest Richard") letter.
Lifetime produced a movie "She Made Them Do It" starring Jenna Dewan Tatum and Steve Bacic. We insist on the fact that the movie is only "based on" the Sarah Pender case but differs from it on several key points.
In september 2013, a show called "Dateline : crime with Tamron Hall" aired on the Investigation Discovery Channel, the fourth episod "Fools for love" features an investigation of the Pender case. The show accurately sums up all key aspects of the Sarah Pender Case and is currently the most informative and up to date show about it.