'I had no intention to kill anyone that day:' Pendleton takes stand in final day of testimony
On the final day of testimony in the trial for Salamah Pendleton, the alleged shooter testified that he felt terrified for his life after he thought he heard officers fire the first shots.
The afternoon of May 27, 2020, Salamah Pendleton said he awoke around 2 p.m. to the sound of Grand Forks County Sheriff's deputies knocking on his front door.
Pendleton and his mother, Lola Moore, were under mandatory quarantine for COVID-19 at the time, and so when officers asked to come in to enforce an eviction, Pendleton told them he wouldn't open the door, and asked them to please leave the papers outside. Then, he said, he went back into his bedroom, closed the door, and laid back down.
Moments later, he said he was alarmed to hear the sound of his front door being pushed open. He testified on Monday, July 12, that he believed they were breaking into his home.
Then, he said, he heard what he thought were two shots fired. He turned and unlocked the gun safe he keeps in his room.
From there, Pendleton's version of events strays from the timeline portrayed by body camera footage and other evidence laid out by the state during the two-week trial.
Grand Forks County Assistant State's Attorney Ashlei Neufeld pressed him repeatedly on these discrepancies -- particularly his concession that ballistics analysis appeared to prove his mother was fatally shot by one of his own bullets, even as he maintained that he did not begin firing until after he saw her lying dead in the hallway.
"I was traumatized, I was afraid for my life," he told the jury. "I lost my mind. I didn't know what to do."
Pendleton is accused of fatally shooting Moore and Grand Forks Police Officer Cody Holte . In addition to two counts of murder, he is charged with three counts of attempted murder, and one count each of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, terrorizing and possession of marijuana with intent to sell it. If convicted of murder, he could face up to life in prison.
Pendleton, a carpenter by trade, testified that he has lived in Grand Forks for 21 years. Moore moved from Iowa into the South 17th Street apartment with her son in 2018, when he became her caregiver.
He told the jury that Moore, 61, had hoped to "start her life anew."
When deputies entered the apartment on May 27, Pendleton said he believed Moore was in her bedroom asleep. According to Pendleton, after he thought he heard shots, he peeked out his bedroom door and thought he saw Moore lying on the ground.
Pendleton testified that Grand Forks County Sheriff's Cpl. Ron Nord then knocked on his bedroom door and briefly told him to come out or he would go to jail. Then, Nord kicked Pendleton's door in. Pendleton said officers fired a shot into his bedroom, striking him in the arm, and he spun around to grab his AK-74 -- what he called his "home defender" -- and returned fire.
Last week, a state investigator testified that a frame-by-frame analysis of body camera footage showed a bullet come out of Pendleton's bedroom less than 0.4 seconds after Nord kicked the door in. Neufeld asked Pendleton how he could have reacted to a shot, turned, picked up his rifle with both hands, and returned fire in less than a half-second.
"It all happened that quick," he said.
Body camera footage also shows Moore come out of her bedroom as officers knocked on Pendleton's door, and remain in the door frame as they continued to ask him to open up. That footage also appears to confirm ballistics analysis that Moore was struck in the head by a rifle round when Pendleton inadvertently fired through his bedroom wall into the hallway.
But Pendleton maintained his testimony that he saw his mother dead before he fired on the officers. He testified that the sight of her body terrified and traumatized him.
"I figured if I come out, that's what will happen to me next," he said.
He testified that he stopped thinking of consequences, and only thought about how he would survive the encounter with the officers. Still, he said, he knew that killing one of the deputies would result in dire consequences -- so when he began firing, he said he aimed for their legs.
"I had no intention to kill anyone that day," he said. "I had no intention to kill Officer Holte, and I definitely didn't have any intention to kill my mom."
After the first volley of gunfire, Pendleton testified that he stayed in his room while officers took cover elsewhere in his apartment. Officers began negotiating with him, asking Pendleton to come out and give them the gun. At one point, Pendleton testified that he peeked out of his room again and saw officers hiding throughout the apartment -- by that time, two Grand Forks Police officers, including Holte, had come to the deputies' assistance.
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When Pendleton exited his bedroom with his rifle slung on his shoulder, he said he intended to surrender, but testified that when officers began firing on him, he returned fire immediately, again aiming for their legs.
When Neufeld asked why a majority of the rifle rounds struck the wall between four and six feet off the ground, Pendleton said he had not been wearing his glasses, and his vision had been impaired.
Neufeld also noted that no blood had been reported found in Pendleton's bedroom, where he recalled first being shot, and blood spatter suggested he had been shot near a dividing kitchen wall, although Pendleton said he doesn't believe he ever made it that close to officers.
The gunfight ended when Pendleton had been shot seven times in the ankle, both legs, hip, arm and shoulder.
When questioned about a legal dictionary found in his living room turned to a page on justifiable homicide, Pendleton said that while he does own legal dictionaries, he does not recall it being turned to that page, as investigators claimed to have found it. He also noted he believes that the two rifle round magazines and his pistol -- which he testified he last saw on his bed -- that were later found on his person were placed there by police.
"I was halfway dead," he said. "I don't know who did what."
After Pendleton's testimony, jurors were dismissed for the day. Attorneys will spend the rest of the afternoon deciding on instructions for the jury's deliberation.
Attorneys are expected to give their closing arguments in the case Tuesday morning, July 13.