Former Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Sells has never had a high opinion of Sarah Pender.
“She was with Richard Hull every step of the way and sort of like Charles Manson-like manipulated him to commit the murders,” Sells told Fox 59.
Pender and her boyfriend Hull were convicted in the October 2000 drug murders of their roommates Andrew Cataldi and Tricia Nordman in a house on the south side of downtown Indianapolis.
Their bodies were thrown in a dumpster. Pender has never denied walking into the murder scene, discovering the bodies and being intimidated by Hull into helping him dispose of the victims.
She even admits buying the murder weapon.
But Pender contended she never committed or planned the murders and Larry Sells, the man who put her behind bars, told Fox 59 News that recently disclosed evidence proves Pender deserves a new trial.
“To this date I don’t know what happened in that house. Only two people do,” said Sells. “I just know that she did not receive a fair trial and that’s why I stepped forward. She absolutely deserves a new trial in my opinion.”
During the 2002 murder trial, Sells relied on the testimony of child molester, robber and later convicted rapist Floyd Pennington, who said Pender confessed to him that she convinced Hull to pull the trigger.
But in 2009, while researching a book on the Pender case titled Girl, Wanted, Sells discovered a list buried in an old police homicide file of people Pennington was offering to set up or testify against in order to reduce the charges or sentences pending against him.
“This is the document, the snitch list, that should’ve been provided to me and the defense,” said Sells, holding a copy of the list in his hands. “They’re entitled to have all the information that we have, (the information) that the prosecutor’s office has on criminal cases.”
“I will help to make buys, wear wires, talk on the phone taps or whatever I have to do to make busts on all of these crimes,” wrote Pennington. “I have a lot of respect and have always been stand up, so I’m trusted in a lot of these circles!”
Pennington listed six categories in which he could infiltrate and inform in order to cut himself a better deal: narcotics, guns, chop shops, dope & crack Houses, bars & clubs and counterfeit money.
“I know now why I never use jailhouse snitches as a general rule,” said Sells. “And this one I did because what Floyd Pennington told me fit with my theory of the crime.”
Sells said his theory that Pender was the brains behind the murders was well known to Hull, who served in the same Marion County Jail cell block as Pennington.
Pennington’s hit list, if it had been discovered by the prosecution and disclosed to Pender’s attorney, could have cast doubt on the state’s main witness.
“I now know why I never use jailhouse snitches,” said Sells. “You cannot believe them. They would sell their soul to get a deal and that’s exactly what happened here. He was willing to turn in all kinds of people including relatives to get some sort of deal in this case.”
Also in dispute is a purported confession letter that Hull provided to investigators in 2002.
Signed by Pender and claiming culpability in the killings, Hull later admitted the letter was a forgery, even though a handwriting analyst testified that Pender wrote the letter.
In several letters sent to Fox 59 News over the years, Pender has always denied an active role in the killings and claimed that the confession letter and Pennington’s testimony were based on lies.
“The false testimony given by Floyd Pennington was in direct contrast to the physical evidence,” she wrote in 2009.
“Floyd Pennington was facing up to 80 years for the charges that were pending against him when he offered me up on the sacrificial altar,” she wrote in April of 2013.
Sells has been interviewed by Pender’s appeals attorney and a homicide detective and deputy prosecutor.
“I would agree that she pled guilty to something other than what she was convicted of,” recommended Sells, “and that some sentence other than 110 years be imposed.”
Sells said that Pender should be charged with assisting a criminal, a C felony that would carry a prison sentence of eight to 20 years if convicted. It was a charge Pender originally faced before being dropped at trial.
Complicating Pender’s appeal is her escape from the Rockville Correctional Facility in 2008 after she convinced a corrections officer and a former inmate to assist her.
While the guard and the friend have served prison time for their roles in the escape, Pender—and the man who financed her life on the run—were never charged.
Pender has spent much of the last four and a half years in solitary confinement.