FARGO, N.D.—The attorney for a man charged with killing his mother and a North Dakota police officer during a shootout with law enforcement who were serving eviction papers said Tuesday that although his client pulled the trigger to cause both deaths, he should not be found guilty of murder.
Defense attorney Steven Mottinger told a jury during his closing arguments that Salamah Pendleton was experiencing “extreme emotional disturbance” because officers came to evict him and his mother from their Grand Forks apartment despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and later because he thought officers had killed his mother, for whom he was the sole caretaker.
“Clearly he is distraught. He did not perceive that he was responsible for her death,” Mottinger said. “He was afraid. If that is not an extreme emotional disturbance, I don’t know what is.”
Jurors were dismissed for the day after about four hours of deliberations. They were scheduled to resume discussions Wednesday morning.
Pendleton, 42, faces two counts of murder for the May 2020 killings of his mother, Lola Moore, and Officer Cody Holte. Investigators say Pendleton shot his mother while firing wildly on officers after they entered his home and killed Holte during a second round of gunfire. Pendleton and a Grand Forks County sheriff’s deputy, Cpl. Ron Nord, were also wounded.
Grand Forks County prosecutor Carmell Mattison said Pendleton prepared for the confrontation by stocking up on ammunition for his semiautomatic rifle. She said Pendleton fired a minimum of 48 rounds using a “high velocity weapon with full metal jacket bullets.”
During the first exchange, Pendleton shot 20 rounds “blindly” through the bedroom wall, not knowing who was on the other side, Mattison said. Ballistics tests showed that one of those bullets killed his mother.
“The only person who was prepared on May 27, 2020, was the defendant,” Mattison said. Pendleton was “waiting for law enforcement to open that door so he could pull the trigger,” she said.
Mottinger suggested that manslaughter charges would be more appropriate for Pendleton, who faces life without parole if he’s convicted of murder.
“He was a mess. That doesn’t excuse his conduct, but it sure goes a long, long way to explaining it, doesn’t it?” Mottinger told the jury.
Jurors could convict Pendleton of manslaughter or negligent homicide charges if they don’t believe he is guilty of murder. Prosecutors are also required to prove that Pendleton did not act in self-defense, in which case he could be found not guilty in either of the killings.
Mattison said self-defense wouldn’t apply because there’s no evidence that the officers used excessive force. Rather, it was the officers who were defending themselves, she said.
Pendleton testified that he didn’t mean to kill anyone and that his mother was unintentionally struck by a ricocheting bullet from his rifle. He said that after he saw his mother’s body lying in a pool of blood, “I lost my mind and I didn’t know what to do.”
Mattison said there’s no evidence that officers fired first, as Pendleton insisted. When Nord broke into Pendleton’s bedroom, it took less than a second before Pendleton fired a bullet that whizzed by his head, according to investigators.
Pendleton is also charged with three counts of attempted murder, criminal mischief, terrorizing, reckless endangerment and possession with intent to deliver marijuana. Authorities say officers found large quantities of the drug, paraphernalia and cash in the apartment.
Holte, 29, was the first officer to be killed in Grand Forks since 1966 and the 58th police officer in the state to die while on duty.
By Dave Kolpack