GRAND FORKS — Salamah Pendleton was sentenced on Friday morning, Oct. 8, to life in prison without parole for the murder of Grand Forks Officer Cody Holte.
Additionally, Pendleton was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the death of his mother, Lola Moore. He also was sentenced for several other charges on Friday morning.
Pendleton, 43, of Grand Forks, was found guilty by a jury in July on five of seven charges stemming from a fatal shootout with law enforcement in May 2020. He was convicted of two counts of murder, one count each for the attempted murders of Grand Forks Sheriff's Cpl. Ron Nord and Grand Forks Sheriff's Sgt. Kelly McLean, and one count each of terrorizing, reckless endangerment, and possession of marijuana with intent to sell it.
Pendleton was found not guilty of terrorizing or the attempted murder of Grand Forks Cpl. Pat Torok. The jury returned a verdict after about 10 hours of deliberation following the two-week trial.
During the trial, prosecutors laid out evidence that Pendleton opened fire on officers after they entered his Grand Forks apartment in an attempt to enforce an eviction.
Nord and McLean gained entry to Pendleton's apartment using a key given to them by the landlord after Pendleton declined to open the front door. Body camera footage showed Moore, who shared the apartment with Pendleton, cooperating with officers while Pendleton barricaded himself in his bedroom.
After Nord kicked in the bedroom door, Pendleton opened fire with an AK-74, accidentally shooting through his bedroom wall and striking his mother in the head and causing the officers to dive for cover.
Pendleton can be heard on body camera footage becoming distraught, believing officers killed Moore, and saying he wouldn't surrender until paramedics arrived to help his mother. Officers told him they couldn't allow paramedics in the apartment until he gave up his weapon.
After Holte and Torok arrived in the apartment to provide assistance to the sheriff's deputies, Pendleton emerged from the bedroom, sweeping the room with gunfire. During this exchange, Holte suffered devastating wounds to his arms and torso and Nord was shot in the upper thigh. The shootout ended after officers shot Pendleton multiple times, incapacitating him. Dozens of rounds were fired in the 14-minute exchange, including several AK-74 bullets that traveled into occupied neighboring apartments.
Holte, Nord and Pendleton were taken to Altru, where Holte was pronounced dead.
When Pendleton took the stand during the trial, he insisted that officers were the ones to fire the first shot, but admitted that all evidence seemed to indicate otherwise.
"I had no intention to kill anyone that day," he said. "I had no intention to kill Officer Holte, and I definitely didn't have any intention to kill my mom."
But during sentencing, Judge Don Hager called Pendleton's story a work of fiction, and instead painted a different picture.
He described evidence that the shootout on May 27, 2020, was a calculated, premeditated ambush, possibly planned several days in advance. He recalled the front door, barricaded with a piece of lumber and a chair, a darkened bedroom window that prevented officers from seeing Pendleton clearly in his room, a law dictionary left open to a definition on justifiable homicide, and an $875 price tag still on the AK-74 Pendleton used.
Hager added that Pendleton is intelligent, well-read, capable of plotting and carrying out crimes, and has a history of defying court orders and law enforcement, all indicating that Pendleton is likely to reoffend if allowed out of prison.
He also urged people not to forget the tragedy of Moore's death or the pain caused to her family, who he said "regrettably" saw the nearly 10 minutes of haunting body camera footage showing their mother slowly die of her wounds during the trial.
In a series of victim witness statements, Holte's family members took turns describing to the court how the loss of Holte's life had devastated theirs. Through tears, family members described anger, grief, and the pain of witnessing what they described as Pendleton's lack of remorse during the trial.
One family member described a shaken relationship with God. Another described her tattoo of the last text Holte ever sent her: "Yes, it is hard. But that's why you have family to get through it."
Mandy Holte, Holte's widow, said her husband was a good police officer: proud but never cocky, dedicated to serving his community, and often heard saying that he was a police officer so others didn't have to be.
On his last day alive, she said he helped wake up Gunnar, their infant son, and get him ready for day care, before kissing his wife, telling her he loved her, and leaving for work.
One of the hardest parts of his death, Mandy Holte said, has been watching Gunnar — now 1 years old — say "daddy" whenever he sees a police car or Holte's twin brother, who he doesn't yet understand isn't his father.
In her victim impact statement, she asked the court to impose the maximum sentence in order to help teach Gunnar that actions have consequences.
"Cody can't be here to teach (Gunnar) right from wrong," she said. "But our judicial system can."
In addition to a sentence of life without parole for Holte's murder, Pendleton was also sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of Moore, who Hager described as a collateral victim killed by a bullet intended for McLean. The 25-year sentence is roughly equivalent to the remainder of Moore's life expectancy.
Pendleton was also sentenced to 20 years each for the attempted murders of McLean and Nord, five years each for terrorizing and reckless endangerment, and, in a nod to Holte's badge number 639, six years and 39 days for possession of marijuana with intent to sell it.
As officers walked Pendleton out of the courtroom past Holte's family, he turned and called to them them over his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," he said.