There were courtroom benches reserved for those who would sit in support of Barbara Kendhammer.
But no one did.
“All the while, the seats in support of her murderer overflowed,” Kendhammer’s cousin Gerianne Buchner-Wettstein said in court Friday. “One cannot blame Barbara for not confiding in anyone about the fear for her safety. As we have sadly seen, who would have believed her? Who would have stood up for her?”
Early Sept. 16, 2016, Todd Kendhammer fatally beat Barbara, his wife of 25 years, and then tried to cover her murder by staging a freak car accident that couldn’t have happened.
La Crosse County Circuit Judge Todd Bjerke on Friday sentenced Kendhammer to life imprisonment, but granted him the opportunity to petition for release in 30 years.
“You deny you did this,” the judge said. “To me, you snapped on that date. You lost it. You committed this horrific act … You are the one responsible for her death, not some pipe falling off a truck.”
Kendhammer, of West Salem, claimed the couple was driving north on Hwy. M in the town of Hamilton when what he thought was a bird but determined was a 10-pound galvanized steel pipe rolled from an oncoming flatbed truck. He claimed he lunged forward and punched the window with one or both of his fists trying to deflect the pipe before it impaled the passenger side of his windshield and struck his wife.
Physics, experts testified, won’t allow a 10-pound pipe to sail horizontally 10 feet from an oncoming vehicle.
Kendhammer said he was driving to pick up a truck owned in turn by Justin Heim, then later Ben Pfaff and finally Jarrod Loging to repair a windshield at the same time his consistently punctual wife was supposed to be at work at West Salem Middle School.
All three men testified during the trial, telling jurors they had no arrangements to meet Kendhammer that day.
A passerby on Bergum Coulee Road, where Kendhammer stopped the car 200 yards from where the pipe was supposed to have hit his car, testified he saw the couple’s Toyota Camry in the ditch, its windshield intact, in the minutes before authorities believe Kendhammer took a 10-pound pipe from the trunk and drove it through the windshield.
Barbara suffered three bone-deep cuts on the back of her head, among a host of other injuries.
“She died a horrible death. A beating,” District Attorney Tim Gruenke said Friday. “She died … scratching and clawing for her life, alone with her killer: her husband.”
Authorities found Kendhammer sweating and bloody, with knuckles injured and scratches on his neck and chest.
“Those very scratch marks were her last communication to those of us in this world so we would seek the truth about her death, no matter how painful that truth might be,” Buchner-Wettstein said. “Barbara found the courage that day to fight back.”
A jury found Kendhammer guilty of first-degree intentional homicide after nine hours of deliberations and a nine-day trial in December.
Buchner-Wettstein asked the judge to sentence Kendhammer to life in prison without the option for release, while Kendhammer’s supporters called for release eligibility after the minimum 20 years.
“Please understand that my parents were a very big part of our lives, and we would like the opportunity to share more of our lives with my dad,” the couple’s daughter, Jessica Servais, said.
Barbara’s mother stands by her son-in-law, while Kendhammer’s mother called him an involved father who cared deeply for his wife.
“This is why we all support Todd,” Patricia Kendhammer said. “This is why we will continue to support Todd.”
But Kendhammer’s family and other supporters ignored the evidence to focus on their experiences with him, Gruenke said.
“The people who are supporting Todd don’t believe the physical evidence that is right in front of their eyes,” he said. “People cannot go on believing that there was a phantom truck that dropped a pipe that floated that caused these injuries.”
Kendhammer was controlling and domestic violence is a crime that festers in private, Gruenke said.
“Plenty of people look fine in public, but things are not fine behind the scenes,” he said. “The fact that he wasn’t mean to you, or wasn’t mean to Barbara in front of you, doesn’t mean that he was good to her.”
From the start, Kendhammer lied to police and blamed law enforcement, the State Crime Laboratory, medical examiners, prosecutors, jurors, the judge and the media of conspiring to convict an innocent man. His family members, while trying to be supportive, “are just feeding his delusions,” Gruenke said.
“To be perfectly frank, they need to get their head out of their ass,” Gruenke said. “They need to start looking at this in reality and not in Mr. Kendhammer’s delusional world where pipes fly and media will conspire and police will frame innocent people because that’s not what happened here.”
Gruenke argued that Kendhammer serve life without the possibility of release, consistent with the recommendation made in a pre-sentence investigation report.
“He never will face up to what he did,” Gruenke said. “He did not give Barbara any mercy. I don’t think he deserves any mercy at this point.”
Defense attorney Jonas Bednarek asked the court to grant Kendhammer an opportunity to ask for release in the minimum 20 years, citing Kendhammer’s strong family support, lack of criminal history and character traits that are “very much different than the verdict in the case.”
“Twenty years is an exceedingly long time,” he said. “For anybody to say that in that 20-year interval Todd Kendhammer is beyond ability or capability to rehabilitate is, in my opinion, flawed logic.”
Bednarek, who lost his father during the trial, said Kendhammer asked daily about his father before his death.
“He thought of my struggle over his struggle,” Bednarek said. “That’s not a man that is beyond repair. Not in my opinion.”
Kendhammer thanked his family and friends for their support but did not repeat his claim of innocence in his brief statement to the court.
The judge called Kendhammer an “enigma” — a man whose first and only conviction is for intentional homicide.
“All of the people in support of you have absolutely no idea what goes on behind closed doors,” Bjerke said. “And here we are.”
Kendhammer will be 77 years old when he can apply for release. But before he does, he must accept responsibility for his wife’s murder, Bjerke said.
“If you don’t do that,” he said, “I doubt that any judge would ever release you.”
WASHINGTON — The White House tried to swat away criticism Friday that the U.S. is getting nothing in exchange for agreeing to a historic face-to-face summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said North Korea has made promises to denuclearize, stop its nuclear and missile testing and allow joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. But questions remained over exactly what North Korea means by “denuclearize” and what the U.S. might be risking with a highly publicized summit that will build up Kim’s stature among world leaders.
“Let’s not forget that the North Koreans did promise something,” Sanders said, responding to a reporter’s question about why Trump agreed to a meeting — unprecedented between leaders of the two nations — without preconditions.
She added: “We are not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea.”
Still, the White House indicated that planning for the meeting was fully on track.
“The deal with North Korea is very much in the making and will be, if completed, a very good one for the World. Time and place to be determined,” Trump tweeted late Friday.
The previous night’s announcement of the summit marked a dramatic turnaround after a year of escalating tensions and rude insults between the two leaders. A personal meeting would have been all but unthinkable when Trump was being dismissed as a “senile dotard” and the Korean “rocket man” was snapping off weapons tests in his quest for a nuclear arsenal that could threaten the U.S. mainland.
North Korea’s capabilities are indeed close to posing a direct atomic threat to the U.S. And the wider world has grown fearful of a resumption of the Korean War that ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.
The prospect of the first U.S.-North Korea summit has allayed those fears somewhat. The European Union, Russia and China — whose leader spoke by phone with Trump on Friday — have all welcomed the move.
North Korea’s government has yet to formally comment on its invitation to Trump. South Korea said the president agreed to meet Kim by May, but Sanders said Friday that no time and place had been set.
The “promises” on denuclearization and desisting from weapons tests were relayed to Trump by South Korean officials who had met with Kim Monday and brought his summit invitation to the White House. Trump discussed the offer with top aides on Thursday. Some expressed their reservations but ultimately supported the president’s decision to accept it, according to U.S. officials who were briefed on the talks and requested anonymity to discuss them.
Still, some lawmakers and foreign policy experts voiced skepticism about the wisdom of agreeing to a summit without preparations by lower-level officials, particularly given the lack of trust between the two sides. North Korea is also holding three American citizens for what Washington views as political reasons.
“A presidential visit is really the highest coin in the realm in diplomacy circles,” said Bruce Klingner, a Korea expert at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, adding that Trump “seemed to spend it without getting anything in return, not even the release of the three U.S. captives.”
Some say Trump could be setting himself up for failure amid doubts over whether Kim has any intention to relinquish a formidable atomic arsenal that he has made central to his personal stature and North Korea’s standing in the world. Kim would also boost his own standing by becoming the first of the three hereditary leaders of North Korea to sit down with an American president.
Evans Revere, a former senior State Department official experienced in negotiating with North Korea, warned there is a disconnect between how the North and the U.S. describes “denuclearization” of the divided Korean Peninsula. For the U.S. it refers to North Korea giving up its nukes; for North Korea it also means removing the threat of American forces in South Korea and the nuclear deterrent with which the U.S. protects its allies in the region.
“The fundamental definition of denuclearization is quite different between Washington and Pyongyang,” Revere said, noting that as recently as Jan. 1, Kim had vigorously reaffirmed the importance of nukes for North Korea’s security. He said that misunderstandings at a summit could lead to “recrimination and anger” and even military action if Trump were embarrassed by failure.
“There is good reason to talk, but only if we are talking about something that is worth doing and that could be reasonably verified,” said former Defense Secretary William Perry, who dealt with North Korea during President Bill Clinton’s administration. “Otherwise we are setting ourselves up for a major diplomatic failure.”
The White House maintains that Kim has been compelled to reach out for presidential-level talks because of Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure.”
“North Korea’s desire to meet to discuss denuclearization — while suspending all ballistic missile and nuclear testing — is evidence that President Trump’s strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working,” Vice President Mike Pence, who has visited the region, said Friday in a written statement.
However, other presidents have lodged economic sanctions against North Korea, as Trump has. And the North has made a habit of reaching out after raising fears during previous crises, with offers of dialogue meant to win aid and concessions. Some speculate that the North is trying to peel Washington away from its ally Seoul, weaken crippling sanctions and buy time for nuclear development. It has also, from the U.S. point of view, repeatedly cheated on past nuclear deals.
Without question, the North wants a peace treaty to end the technically still-active Korean War and drive all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, removing what it says is a hostile encirclement of its territory by Washington and Seoul.
If you’re looking for warmer weather and gradual snow melt, our forecast should be just the ticket.
Highs for this weekend should be in the low 40s.
There’s a slight chance of drizzle or a bit of snow late Saturday and early Sunday, but conditions should be dry during daytime hours this weekend.
And, of course, you’ll have more daylight Sunday evening after turning your clock ahead earlier in the day.
Temperatures are expected to hover around 40 early this week, but sunshine and warmer weather are just around the corner.
Highs in the mid-50s are expected Thursday and Friday.