Parole panel rules 'Kentucky' Pendergrass eligible for release

  • PC: Ernest "Kentucky" Pendergrass, 82, who fights back tears as he talks about his wife, is the sixth oldest person of 3,100 prisoners housed at the California Medical facility in Vacaville, Thursday July 29, 2004. In prison for the murder of an ex-girlfriend in 1981, the fomer Sonoma County Fair director says he will never make it to 94 years old, the age he will be when he comes up for parole, in 2016.

    8/8/2004: A1: Behind the cell walls of Kentucky Pendergrass

A state parole panel ruled Tuesday that 90-year-old killer Ernest "Kentucky" Pendergrass is incapacitated by poor health and is eligible to have a judge consider releasing the long-ago Sonoma County man-about-town from prison.

"For right now, we're enjoying a little tiny victory," said Pendergrass' daughter, Donna McClelland.

The Santa Rosa resident traveled to Sacramento on Tuesday to ask the Board of Parole Hearings to find that her ailing father is an appropriate candidate for a compassionate release.

In her allotted five-minute statement, McClelland said Pendergrass was not an evil man but an alcoholic who has been an exemplary inmate and who will save the state money if he is released from the California Medical Facility in Vacaville and allowed to live out the balance of his life at her home.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch had a prosecutor from another county, a specialist in parole, use another five minutes of allowed testimony time to urge the board to keep in mind the heinous nature of the crimes Pendergrass committed near Sebastopol on the day after Thanksgiving 1981.

Now that the hearing panel has decided to ask a judge to consider releasing Pendergrass, Ravitch said, she will obtain and review the inmate's medical records before deciding whether to advocate to the court that he be kept behind bars.

As the state considers a compassionate release, Ravitch said, it is important to remember that the judge who sentenced Pendergrass in 1983 intended that he never leave prison, and that Pendergrass showed no compassion to his victims, Rosemary and Rick Edmonds.

"Pendergrass has paid a price, but the price they paid will always be greater," the prosecutor said.

The Board of Parole Hearings decision, made in a session closed to the public, was to ask the court that convicted Pendergrass and sentenced him to 54 years to life in prison to consider recalling that sentence and resentencing him in light of his poor physical condition.

State law allows the release of lifers who are deemed to be terminally ill or medically incapacitated. The parole panel found that Pendergrass is incapacitated and that he does not pose a threat to public safety.

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