The Indianapolis Star reports that a breakdown in communication between police and prosecutors may lead to a new trial for an infamous Indiana defendant after a Marion County deputy prosecutor came across undisclosed evidence in the defendant’s file. The prosecutor, who convinced a 2002 jury to put Sarah Pender away for the murders of Andrew Cataldi and Tricia Nordman, is having second thoughts about her guilt after discovering the “snitch list” of a star state witness.
The list belonged to inmate Floyd Pennington, who Pender wrote to while awaiting trial for the murders of Cataldi and Nordman, and who subsequently testified against her that she had confessed to him. At trial, Pennington told Pender’s jury that she had coerced her boyfriend into killing the pair. The Star says Pennington told the jury: “She didn’t pull the trigger, but, you know, she had pretty much coerced Rick to pull the trigger.”
Former Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Sells told The Star that Pender didn’t get a fair trial because the lead police detective on the case, Ken Martinez, failed to turn over a letter to Sells that named individuals whom Pennington “was prepared to help police bust in exchange for a plea agreement.” Sells says, “If I’d have seen that I never would have put Floyd Pennington on the witness stand.”
The new evidence is even more concerning in light of testimony given by Pender’s co-defendant at a 2005 hearing on appeal. Rick Hull, who fired the fatal shots on the night of the murders, produced a letter at trial in which Pender supposedly confessed to him for her role in the crime. A Marion County crime lab expert testified that the handwriting was indeed Pender’s. But at a 2005 hearing on Pender’s appeal, Hull testified that he had another inmate write the letter for him, and that he alone had killed the victims.
The Star reports that Scott Newman, the Marion County Prosecutor at the time of Pender’s conviction, agrees with Sells that the “snitch list” gives Pender a good argument for a new trial.
Sells came across the letter while looking through Pender’s file in 2009. He says the document demonstrates that Pennington was willing to lie under oath to get a plea deal that would reduce the 56-year sentence he was facing on child molestation charges.
Just months before Pennington gave testimony against Pender, he was sentenced to only 12 years and was ultimately released within six. He went on to commit a rape and other crimes upon his release and is now serving a 30 year sentence in Florida.