No verdict was reached in the murder trial for Salamah Pendleton on Tuesday, July 13. Jurors will resume deliberations at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 14.
After a morning of closing arguments, the jury entered deliberations just after 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 13. They will decide whether Pendleton is guilty of two counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, and one count each of criminal mischief, terrorizing, reckless endangerment and possession of marijuana with intent to sell it.
If the jury determines that Pendleton is not guilty of the murder with extreme indifference to the value of human life of his mother Lola Moore and Grand Forks Police Officer Cody Holte, they will then consider whether he is guilty of murder with extreme emotional disturbance, manslaughter by reckless conduct, or negligent homicide.
If convicted of murder, Pendleton could face up to life in prison.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Steven Mottinger said that the state at best has a case for manslaughter for the death of Moore, and argued that the evidence supports a case of murder with extreme emotional disturbance for the death of Holte.
"He was a mess," Mottinger said. "That doesn't entirely excuse his conduct, but it certainly goes a lot way toward explaining it, doesn't it?"
In order to find Pendleton guilty of murder, the jury must agree that the state proved Pendleton did not act in self defense. Self defense against law enforcement is justifiable only as a means to resist excessive force.
The culmination of the two week trial leaves the jury to consider two differing versions of events. Both sides agree that on May 27, 2020, Grand Forks County Sheriff's Cpl. Ron Nord and Sgt. Kelly McLean attempted to evict Pendleton and Moore from their South 17th Street apartment for lack of rent payment and lease agreement violations.
Pendleton said after he declined to open the door for deputies and they came in using a key, he believes he heard them fire shots in the apartment. When he looked outside his bedroom, he says he saw his mother dead on the ground, and became emotionally distraught, and he returned fire when deputies shot him in the arm. When he attempted to surrender some time later, deputies fired on him again, and he returned fire, aiming for their legs. Nord was shot in the upper leg and abdomen, and Holte was killed by a gunshot wound to his chest.
But Grand Forks County Deputy State's Attorney Carmell Mattison said Pendleton's version of events does not match the physical evidence or the body camera footage. She pointed to the fact that footage shows that officers did not have their weapons in their hands when Pendleton fired a shot out of his bedroom door near Nord's head, and that there are no shell casings or blood stains to suggest deputies fired at Pendleton or that he was shot while he was in his bedroom.
Body camera footage also shows that Moore was alive when officers reached Pendleton's bedroom door. The footage also shows the moment she was apparently struck in the head by a bullet ballistics analysis later confirmed was consistent with Pendleton's AK-74 and not the officers' Glock pistols. The bullet that struck her seems to have traveled through Pendleton's wall and out Moore's bedroom doorway, and at the time of the incident, Pendleton apparently didn't realize it was his bullet that killed her.
Pendleton also testified that he fired about 20 shots "blindly" out of his bedroom door during the first volley of gunfire. Mattison argued that regardless of the other discrepancies, that concession was enough to prove his actions were willful and reckless enough to constitute the murder of Moore and the attempted murder of the other two deputies.
Mottinger agreed that Pendleton isn't denying that he fired shots at the deputies, or at Holte or GFPD Cpl. Pat Torok when they responded to the shooting. However, he argued that the physical evidence and body camera footage isn't as cut-and-dry as the state wanted the jury to think, and noted that much of the footage shown in court was somewhat up for interpretation.
He pointed to Pendleton's testimony that he hadn't realized he had been evicted from his apartment where he cared for his disabled mother, and that in the early months of the COVID crisis, they both had been under mandatory COVID-19 quarantine orders at the time.
"Is it reasonable to believe that someone charged with the care of someone else who had nowhere else to go -- don't you think that would bother them? Don't you think that would cause them some stress?" Mottinger said.
Mottinger argued that Pendleton had no idea his mother was in harm's way and had no intent to injure her when he fired his weapon, and argued that her accidental death from his gunfire amounted to a manslaughter charge at most.
He continued by saying that the sight of his dead mother created the circumstances of Pendleton's extreme emotional disturbance that led to the death of Holte.
"Listen to the pleading in those audios," Mottinger said, recalling body camera footage of Pendleton's conversation with officers following the first volley of gunfire. "'Somebody help my mother. Somebody get her some help.'"
Extreme emotional disturbance is defined as an extreme emotional state the defendant experiences after being subject to extremely stressful circumstances, when the defendant did not have prior mental health conditions.
Mattison argued that in this case, murder with extreme emotional disturbance is not an appropriate verdict, and the jury should find Pendleton guilty of murder with extreme indifference to the value of human life.
"Being stressed does not give you the right to kill," she said.