I receive comments from people on any item I write on Sarah Pender, mostly from her supporters, who are predictably my detractors. It’s good to read these comments, although most are poorly reasoned and filled with typos and nasty personal attacks rather than thoughtful insights that would at least reflect credibly on Sarah’s behalf. One I recently received was simple and stupid: “sarah is innocent.”
Well no, even Sarah admits she was involved in a crime and deservedly served time.
“But the truth dosn’t sell now dose it,” someone else posed to me. Spellcheck, please. Another post blared “FREE STACY PENDER!” You get the idea.
But something is going to happen that may change the right minds for the right reason: A couple weeks ago, I was in Indianapolis taping a show with NBC/Discovery, along with former Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Sells, about a problem in the trial of Pender. You can see it on page 115 of Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender, regarding the testimony of Floyd Pennington, a key witness in Pender’s trial:
“…there was a problem with his testimony and, in the rearview mirror, its impact on the jury. A letter discovered after the trial in the police file found that Pennington had offered to turn evidence on a list of people, from drug dealers to chop-shop owners. He named names on a yellow legal pad in his own writing. But the list was never presented by the defense during Sarah’s trial.
It would have been easy to pass that note by. I found it in the police file one afternoon. I was leafing through the file in the office of Indianapolis Police Captain Mark Rice. I even recall the day, a sunny summer afternoon. Larry was with me there at a desk, sitting to my right, when I found the letter. I turned to him with it, realizing that such a snitch list would have jeopardized his case. He had a poker face – Larry is a poker ace, by the way – when he read it the first time, but he clearly knew its implication. From the book:
“I never saw that list, and it would seem that the defense never saw it either, since it wasn’t in evidence or used to combat Floyd’s statements for us,” says Larry Sells, who prosecuted the case for the state.
What if I had tucked it back into the file never to be seen again? That would have helped my story, that Sarah Pender was a dangerous criminal who had been rightfully convicted. Of course I didn’t do that.
One misguided NBC staffer, using some convoluted logic, tried to explain to me that had Pender not escaped, I wouldn’t have written a book, and Pender would have had to serve her sentence with no chance for a new trial.
That ridiculous notion is easily refuted: If Sarah hadn’t been living in a drug house with criminal meth heads, she never would have been involved in a crime of this magnitude. She wouldn’t have had to escape from prison.
Our justice system generally works. But without a free press and open records, not to mention people who are part of that press who understand legal possibilities, possible wrongs can’t be righted.
So here we are, with what may be a substantial news show, Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall, debuts this fall. Judging by the questions and my conversations with the crew it is slanted toward Pender, whom they interviewed at a ridiculous cost of $5,000, which the beleaguered Indiana Department of Correction charges. Still, is it possible to right a wrong here? Pender could get a new trial, which anyone interested in justice should support. I maintain she is a dangerous person. But there are many dangerous people who are running around free, and to lock them up simply because someone perceives them as a threat would make for a crazy society. And if she gets a new trial and a jury finds she is guilty of a lesser offense, or no offense at all, then her sentence should reflect that.
Steve Miller is an investigative reporter with over two decades of experience in daily newspaper, Web and magazine reporting and writing. Miller has done time as a court and cops beat reporter at the Dallas Morning News and as a national reporter for the Washington Times, and as a correspondent for national publications including People magazine, High Times, Boston Magazine, Miami New Times, Houston Press, The Daily Beast and U.S. News and World Report. In 2012, he was an Edgar award finalist for his book, Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender. He is a recipient of the digital investigative award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Miller was also the former vocalist in the Midwest punk rock outfit the Fix in 1980-81.
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