FARGO, N.D.—A North Dakota man was convicted of murder on Wednesday for killing his mother and a police officer during a shootout as authorities tried to evict the pair from their apartment last year.
Salamah Pendleton, 42, opened fire on Officer Cody Holte and other officers in May 2020 while they were trying to serve papers evicting him and his mother, Lola Moore, from their Grand Forks apartment for what authorities called a lack of rent payment and lease agreement violations. Pendleton shot his mother while firing wildly on the officers after they entered the home and he killed Holte during a second round of gunfire. Pendleton and a sheriff’s deputy were wounded in the gun battle.
In addition to the two murder counts, the jury convicted Pendleton of two counts of attempted murder, terrorizing, reckless endangerment and possession with the intent to deliver marijuana. He was found not guilty of one count of attempted murder and criminal mischief.
Grand Forks Police Chief Mark Nelson issued a statement to acknowledge the “professionalism, sacrifice, and dedication” shown by those involved in the trial.
“We accept this verdict as the outcome of our justice system, and will continue to move forward and heal; as individuals, an organization, and a community,” Nelson said.
Pendleton faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct 15.
Testimony in the livestreamed trial in Grand Forks began on July 2. Jurors started deliberating Tuesday afternoon.
Defense attorney Steven Mottinger told the jury during closing arguments Tuesday that Pendleton had been experiencing “extreme emotional disturbance” on the day of the killings because the officers came to evict him and his mother despite the stress of COVID-19 which Pendleton said had them in self-quarantine early in the pandemic.
Pendleton also thought the officers had killed his mother, but ballistics tests showed the bullet was from Pendleton’s semiautomatic rifle.
Grand Forks County prosecutor Carmell Mattison said Pendleton prepared for the confrontation by stocking up on ammunition and that he 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.
“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.
Pendleton testified Monday 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 is 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.
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