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Legal expert: Pendleton unlikely to win appeal, but could set legal precedent in North Dakota

The man convicted of the murder of Grand Forks police officer Cody Holte has raised a number of technical legal issues.

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Salamah Pendleton sits at his sentencing hearing in October 2021.
Matt Henson/WDAY News
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GRAND FORKS — The man convicted of setting up a police ambush, causing the death of a Grand Forks police officer, wants a new trial.

Salamah Pendleton's appeal lawyer, Kiara Costa Kraus-Parr, argued in front of the North Dakota Supreme Court Tuesday, May 17, that the trial had a number of issues.

He is serving life without parole for shooting and killing Grand Forks police officer Cody Holte when an eviction notice turned into a shootout.

One legal expert says it's not really a surprise that Pendleton is appealing because he has nothing to lose.

The appeal lists five issues. One argues Pendleton should have been allowed to be part of private conversations between his lawyer, prosecutors and the judge. He also questions if there was juror misconduct when a juror accidentally picked up the notes of another juror during the trial, but never read them.

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"It's a good appeal, it's a well-written appeal, it's a well-argued appeal, but I suspect that it's going to have a very, very difficult task of being successful at the supreme court level," said Ted Sandberg, a defense lawyer from Grand Forks not connected to the case.

That being said, Sandberg said this appeal will likely have a huge legal impact in North Dakota.

"It'll probably get, let's just call it more scrutiny than normal, because it is so technical," explained Sandberg.

He says the justice's decision in this case will dictate how sidebar conversations happen in the courtroom, along with how to handle certain situations with jurors.

"Every ruling they issue becomes law. That's controlling law, so these real, technical legal matters will dictate the way trials are conducted and appeals are conducted. It could dictate it for the next 200 years in North Dakota. Just one case," said Sandberg.

He expects the justices to take up to three months to issue a written decision.

"It's just as serious an answer for the supreme court to say we're not going to overturn this conviction as much as it would be if they do say we are going to overturn the conviction. Whatever they say is going to have a significant impact on the way cases are tried in North Dakota," Sandberg said.

Kraus-Parr is not the same lawyer who represented Pendleton at trial. She is the same lawyer who represented William Hoehn when he appealed his life sentence to the supreme court for the murder of Savannah Greywind.

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The justices ruled in his favor and Hoehn was re-sentenced to 20 years.

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