Convicted Santa Rosa killer seeks compassionate release from prison

A third of a century after Ernest "Kentucky" Pendergrass left Sonoma County's mouth agape by killing his ex-girlfriend with a shotgun, the former hard-drinking trucker and civic notable hopes to leave prison alive.

On Tuesday, the state Board of Parole Hearings will consider whether Pendergrass is sufficiently ill and enfeebled to justify his early release from the California Medical Facility, the sprawling hospital prison in Vacaville.

Pendergrass was 58 when he killed Rosemary Edmonds and caused the death of her husband, Rick. On Saturday, the inmate turned 90.

If the parole board in Sacramento finds he is eligible for what's commonly called a compassionate release, the panel will recommend his prison sentence be recalled by the Sacramento County court that 30 years ago convicted him of the two slayings and sentenced him to 54 years to life.

Should the Sacramento judge decide the long-ailing Pendergrass is not terminally ill or medically incapacitated and therefore not eligible for release, he won't be up for parole until 2018 — the year he would turn 95.

But if Pendergrass is freed, the rough-hewn Pearl Harbor veteran and former outdoorsman, tavern regular and member of the county fair board and grand jury will come back to Sonoma County and live in his daughter's hillside house in Santa Rosa.

"He's tired. He's worn out. He has a few months left," daughter Donna McClelland said. "I would love to have him home. He's got great-grandchildren he's never met."

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said that if the parole board decides Tuesday that Pendergrass is suitable for release, she will request his prison medical records and then take a position on his possible release. Her review of the records will seek to ascertain if he is so diminished by illness and age that he poses no threat to others.

"There are people of advanced years who have committed violent crimes," Ravitch said. When Pendergrass, who has been treated in prison for a host of potentially fatal maladies, applied last year for clemency, Ravitch urged against it.

In the Sonoma County of three decades ago, Pendergrass was a big man about town and a widely liked one. So the tragic turn of events that he set into motion while full of booze on the night after Thanksgiving in 1981 struck the county like a temblor.

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