Sarah Jo Pender

I am uncertain that I have done any blog here that I have done more searching of correctional institutes for inmate searches or even searched more individuals involved in a case.  I have seen this case profiled on many true crime shows including Snapped and others and knew most of the story but I did not know just all of the controversy surrounding the case and the players.  

On October 25, 2000 the bodies of Andrew Cataldi and Tricia Nordman were found in a dumpster in downtown Indianapolis.  They could not be ID'd so the police and media decided to release pictures of tattoos belonging to the victims. This is when a woman who lived only a few blocks from the discovery identified them as people who lived with her neighbors, Richard Hull and Sarah Jo Pender. Richard Hull was a bouncer at a local bar and had an extensive criminal record. Sarah, his girlfriend, worked as a secretary for a local contractor and had a clean record.  It was soon learned that both Cataldi and Nordman were fugitives from a correctional facility in Nevada.  Cataldi was serving time for possession and intent to sell meth while Nordman was serving a forgery sentence. I do believe at one time I was aware of how the two couples hooked up but my research was unable to determine this.  At any rate the two couples living in the home for several months.  According to Hull, he and Cataldi dealt drugs out of the home and were preparing to empty out the basement of the home to construct a meth lab with the help of a chemist from Nevada.  Neighbors stated they had heard many arguments between Hull and Cataldi during the time they were there.  Co-workers of Sarah's would also later say that she complained about the roommates.

Due to his extensive criminal history, which included several misdemeanors as well as two felony convictions (for auto theft and residential entry), Hull was not allowed to purchase any sort of gun.  On the morning of October 24th Hull had convinced Pender, who had no history to purchase a gun for him at the local Walmart.  Pender did so and a cashier at the store would later say that while Pender purchased the 12 gauge shotgun it was Hull, who was with her that picked out the ammunition for her to buy also.  

Hull had borrowed a truck from a friend, allegedly to clean out the basement on October 24th.  He returned the truck on the 26th and was said to have burned some blood stained items (although what I am unsure) while there.  This was the same day that police had obtained a search warrant for his and Pender's home.  They would notice traces of blood, and obvious attempts of clean up in the home.  On October 27, 2000 Richard Hull was arrested in the suburb of Noblesville (as I recall at his mothers home).  He readily admitted to the murders although as we hear in most of these cases he seemed to lessen his liability.  On the following day Sarah Jo Pender provided the investigators with some blood stained pants belonging to Hull.  DNA results would show that the blood belonged to the victims.  No DNA results of anything tested was ever linked to Pender.  Either at the time she gave investigators the pants, or sometime later that day Pender was also arrested and charged with murder.

Hull's initial story was that Pender had left the home to walk to get cigarettes that evening and that while she was gone he and Cataldi had an argument over money. At some point it would later be alleged that the argument was over the fact that Cataldi had cut Hull out of a drug deal, but I am unsure that has ever been confirmed, while not out of the realm of possibilities.  Hull went on to claim that Cataldi knew of the gun that had been purchased earlier in the day and went and grabbed it threatening Hull.  He claimed he then shot both of the victims in the chest (Tricia Nordman was also shot in the head).  The story was that by the time that Pender returned Hull had already murdered both victims and had put one of the bodies in the back of the borrowed truck.  Pender apparently helped load the other body into the truck and then helped Hull dump them in the dumpster a few blocks away.  While Pender went to work the following day (her co-workers claim she seemed no different than any other day) Hull remained at the home attempting to clean the scene. 

Sarah Jo Pender's trial would begin in July of 2002.  By this time the investigating officer, Ken Martinez would have a leading role in this case. Against her lawyer's advise Sarah Jo had been sending letters to Hull in prison, as well as another inmate she met in a church service in the jail named Floyd Pennington.  Inmates are restricted from having communication with each other but Sarah Jo had a friend outside the prison that was willing to mail the letters out for her.  I was never able to determine who this friend was for certain but it is likely that it was Jamie Long, a woman who had been a cellmate for a short time with Sarah Jo when she was serving time for a DUI.  It was rumored that they were "more than friends," but that may have been more of a rumor for sensationalism than anything. Long will play a role later in Pender's story.  At any rate Sarah Jo was writing letters to both men.  When investigator Martinez learned of it in July of 2001 he personally searched Richard Hull's cell and removed all letters he found and it was made sure that no more contact was made between the two inmates.  I am uncertain if by this time Martinez knew about the communication with Floyd Pennington or not but if he did he allowed continued contact between the two.

Sometime in September or October of 2001 Hull's attorney approached Martinez with a letter he said his client had received from Sarah Jo Pender in May of 2001.  In the letter it appears that Sarah Jo admitted that the murders were her idea and she had manipulated Hull into committing them.  Just soon after Floyd Pennington also approached Martinez and informed him that if he could just set up a meeting somehow with Pender he was sure he could get her to give him details.  Just such a meeting was set up, and supposedly that is just what happened.  Pender and Pennington each fake being sick so they would be sent to the local hospital that treated inmates.  Pennington would later claim that while there was a ruckus involving another inmate that he and Pender were left alone for approximately 30 minutes and although they were still each chained they were close enough to speak without being heard.  This is when Pennington would claim that she confessed that she had manipulated Hull into committing the murders and taking the rap.  Both the letter that was said to be written by Sarah and Pennington's statement were sent to the prosecutor.

So by the time her trial began the prosecutor, Larry Sells, was convinced that Sarah Jo Pender was the mastermind of the crime and he had no qualms about expressing that in court.  The only real evidence they had that she had done anything more than assist Hull after he committed the murders and never reported them were the letter Hull had provided and Pennington's testimony. A forensic document examiner had looked over the letter and determined in her opinion that Sarah Jo had written it.  Sells would call her "The Female Charles Manson" in court and it became a nickname that would stick with her. Ultimately she was convicted and sentenced to 110 years. She was ultimately sent to the Rockville Correctional Facility to serve her time. Her earliest chance at parole according to the Indiana Department of Corrections website is February of 2054.

Sarah Jo made big headlines again though in August of 2008 when she escaped from prison.  It was determined that he had help from prison guard, Scott Spitler and had been picked up outside the prison by her friend, Jamie Long. She was recaptured in December of 2008 living under an assumed name and working as an estimator for a contractor after her case had been re-aired on the show America's Most Wanted.  She had also been placed on the U.S. Marshals 15 most wanted fugitives (she was the only woman).  Her nickname "The Female Charles Manson" followed her and she was said to be extremely dangerous.  Scott Spitler would seemingly used the reputation she had amassed to use as a defense.  He claimed she had manipulated him and convinced him to help her and he even mentioned the Manson comparison.  There were rumors that Spitler was having an ongoing affair with Pender.  Supporters of hers would say that the affair was untrue but that Spitler had expected a sum of money (I could not determine if it was $1,500 or $15,000 that he expected) so he provided her with a cell phone, clothing to change into and the means to leave the facility.  It would be said later that Spitler's story may have even been partly concocted by the prison system because Rockville had a lot of bad publicity.  While Sarah Jo was still a fugitive, another Rockville guard, Roger Heitzman was arrested for trafficking and engaging in sex acts with at least one inmate, if not more.  Unlike Spitler, he would not claim to be manipulated.  And, just a few months before she had escaped it had been revealed that Rockville had hired a man by the name of Steven Kazmierczak as a corrections officer back in 2007 without a lot of background checking.  Apparently he no longer worked there it seems but on February 14, 2008 Kazmierczak had opened fired on student in a lecture hall at the Northern Illinois University.  He killed 5 students before turning the gun on himself.  So, the Indiana Department of Corrections, especially at Rockville, was not looking so hot as of late.  Spitler would eventually be sentenced to seven years in prison, although it seems he would only serve about two and a half and was released in August of 2011. Jamie Long was also sentenced to seven years for her role in assisting in the escape, she was released in 2013.

Throughout her trial in 2002 Sarah Jo and her lawyer maintained that not only was the letter that Hull claimed she wrote to him in prison, but that Floyd Pennington's testimony about her statement was a lie.  Now, we hear those things quite often when it comes to defendants, especially those charged with murder.  The difference here is there is a lot of evidence that those things may be true but some of that did not come out until much later.  In 2005 Richard Hull signed an affidavit stating that the letter was in fact fake.  According to him, he approached fellow inmate, Steve Logan, and showed him examples of Sarah Jo's handwriting.  Hull claims that he asked Logan to construct the letter because of his handwriting style.  Logan apparently has admitted that Hull approached him but denies writing the letter.  However, several things should be noted not just about the letter, but the time period.  First, detective Ken Martinez says he had gone through Hull's cell in July of 2001 and confiscated all letters from Sarah Jo Pender, to which this was not one of them, yet was supposedly received in May.  Secondly, it was said that most, if not all of Sarah's letters were in cursive handwriting while this letter was in print, which was odd.  It was also reported that the letter had been sent for DNA analysis (although I have to admit I cannot actually confirm this) and that both Hull and Logan's prints are on the letter but not Sarah Jo's.  If this is accurate information I cannot say when that DNA testing was done.  We also have to remember that during the time that this letter not only supposedly was written but was later given to Hull's attorney, then to Martinez and later to prosecutor Larry Sells, Hull himself was either looking at a trial or searching for a deal. In March of 2004, Hull pleaded guilty and received a 90 year sentence (45 for each murder).  His parole date is scheduled for September of 2045.

So what about Floyd Pennington.  Well first let's look at Floyd's record, and it's a long one.  In 1989 he was convicted of child molestation and received 5 years in prison.  He was released in 1994.  In April of 1996 he was convicted of theft, receiving stolen property and resisting law enforcement.  In May of 1996 he was also convicted of battery and for a handgun violation.  His longest sentence in all of those charges in 1996 seemed to be a six year sentence.  But then in October of 2001 he was again sentenced for robbery and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.  These were the charges he was in jail for at the time he was making contact with Sarah Jo. In fact, he was sentenced a mere 11 days after agreeing to testify against Sarah Jo. He was facing up to 56 years in prison. Apparently he made a deal that also including him testifying to what he claimed she said and he was given a 12 year sentence in which he served six.  Then what do you know?  A few months after being released he was again sentenced to a year and half for once again theft and receiving stolen property.  He must not have served long because in December of 2008 he was found guilty of rape and is currently serving a 30 year sentence.  He is scheduled for release in November 15, 2023.  Now, why is his record important? It is important for a few reasons. One, we should know just what sorts of people are testifying against others in a court of law. And while admittedly, not everyone who has committed a crime is a liar and cannot be trusted, but Pennington's record, even up to the time of the Pender situation was not just rather extensive, but he had several violent crimes on his list.  But, the most important reason that his record should be known is that in 2009, a journalist was writing a book.  Either through his own discovery in the file or, as I may understand it, retired prosecutor Larry Sells was helping him and looking over the file, they found what they called Floyd Pennington's "snitch list."  Sells claims this is the first time he had ever seen this list.  The list was written in Pennington's handwriting and had several names, including Penders on it.  Pennington claimed he would do whatever it took to help cases, buy drugs, talk to people, whatever it took.  Sells, nor the defense attorney's from the trial ever claimed to have seen the list.  In fact, after seeing the list, as well as the retraction and information about the supposed letter Sells publicly announced that it was his belief that Pender did not have a fair trial.  He has said had he known about the snitch list he would have absolutely never put Pennigton on the stand.

In July of 2013 Penders appeals lawyer file to have her sentenced reduced.  She argued that Pender would plead guilty to a Class C Felony for assisting a criminal for her role in helping dispose of the bodies and cover the crime, to which the maximum sentence would have been 8 years.  This would have released Pender from jail as she had already served more than that much time. It was denied, however it was suggested apparently that the better route would have been to request a new trial.  So In October of 2013 that is exactly what happened.  The Floyd Pennington "snitch list" was one of the top reasons.  In February 2014 that to was denied but my research indicates that is, or at least was, being looked into because one of the judges on the appeal panel was also the judge in both Hull's 2003 and 2005 appeals.  

After her escape Pender was put in solitary confinement in the jail.  The maximum time for that was to be a year.  However, as of at the very least 2012 she was still being held there indefinitely, and it appears questions have been asked, yet not answered, as to why.  It seems that the idea of the "Female Charles Manson" and comments that were made in her trial saying she used her sexuality to get her way, appears to have followed her and believed by many.

Another interesting note in this case that you hear tidbits about here and there, but did not seem compiled together a whole lot concerns Ken Martinez. As I have mentioned, he was the lead investigator on this case.  He was the one who obtained the letter from Hull's lawyer, and apparently he was the one given the Pennington "snitch list" and dealt with him.  So you have one man who was in charge of these things, one of which never made it to prosecutors or defense lawyers.  Sells was quoted as saying Martinez must have forgotten to show it at one time but I am unsure if he still believes that.  Ken Martinez left Indianapolis in 2006 to take a job in Idaho.  By 2008 there was a huge scandal involving Martinez and he resigned.  A woman had fired shots at her boyfriend and was facing charges when she jumped bail.  It was a case that apparently Martinez was once again in charge of.  She was later found but by the time she was, prosecutors had to drop the charges because they claimed there was mishandling of evidence, as well as the department would claim that Martinez had developed a relationship with the woman's niece.  Evidence had come up missing it seems and it appears the department maintained that it was due to Martinez. He would later state that he did not have anything more than a friendship with the woman's niece and that the woman was not involved with her aunt or had had contact with her in some time so even if he were involved with her it would not have affected the case. As far as the evidence, apparently it was lost and Martinez would later claim that he was used as a scapegoat. While officials would say he was forced to resign Martinez would later say there was no force involved, that he simply could no longer work with people of questionable integrity.   I, myself, find it extremely odd that this man was the main investigator in the Pender case and was directly involved in the two issues in which have come into question that were used against her at her trial.

Pender herself has been quoted as saying she was in love, young, and stupid, and those things are what put her behind bars, but she is not a murderer.  Her reputation has exceeded her.  The portrayal of her during her trial let to nationwide portrayal when she was featured on America's Most Wanted after her escape.  She knows, and everyone else knows that she is guilty of assisting a criminal and hiding a crime.  She all but makes no excuses for her escape in 2008, saying had she been prosecuted for what she had really done she would have already been release.  While I do not agree with this attitude, I can hardly argue with the logic. So I guess that statement tells you what I think about her guilt or innocence, at least when it comes to murder that is.  It seems the older I get I have a more understanding just how dumb we were in our 20's... to which Sarah Jo Pender was barely scratching the surface of.  As young girls we often seem to be "bad boy" magnets, and we think it's exciting and fun.... even for those girls that have never been in trouble.... maybe more so. So yeah, I do believe that she was young, in love and stupid as she says.  Whether she really was more involved in the murders than she, or even Hull claimed early on and again later, is really hard to tell, but there was no real evidence to prove that she was.  She got her exciting life alright, and she's paying for being with the bad boy, that's for sure.


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