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.
Conditions described in the release request include progressive dementia, a history of falls, an inability to dress or shower without assistance, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.
The question of whether Pendergrass will be released after 30 years in prison will go to the court in Sacramento County because that is where the double murder trial was held.
Pendergrass' attorney asked in 1982 that the trial be moved from Sonoma County because of extensive pre-trial publicity. The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office did not oppose the request, acknowledging that Pendergrass, a former member of the county grand jury and the fair board, was extremely well known locally and that the murder case was a huge topic of debate and gossip.
Through the course of the trial, the prosecution persuaded the Sacramento County jury that Pendergrass, who was 58 at the time of his arrest, drove to the Edmondses' rural home on Nov. 27, 1981, intending to kill them.
Three weeks earlier, a romance between Pendergrass and Rosemary Edmonds, 35, had ended abruptly. Edmonds reconciled with her husband and, upon describing a series of threats from Pendergrass, obtained a restraining order that directed him to stay away and not contact her.