The second week of a La Crosse County homicide trial will be dominated by expert witnesses who will testify that the evidence the prosecution calls proof of Todd Kendhammer’s guilt instead backs up the West Salem man’s story of a freak accident.

Prosecutors finished the questioning of the last of 19 witnesses for the state on Friday afternoon and will rest their case Monday morning when the first-degree intentional homicide trial resumes before Judge Todd Bjerke in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

There were no shocking developments in the first five days of the two-week trial: Kendhammer stands firm in his contention that a pipe he says fell from an oncoming truck killed his wife, Barbara, who was riding in the front passenger seat as he drove the couple’s Toyota Camry the morning of Sept. 16, 2016, on a rural La Crosse County road. The prosecutors’ case rests on evidence they contend proves the husband’s story is false.

Kendhammer, 47, was arrested outside the Onalaska Menards store 81 days after first responders and police converged on Bergum Coulee Road off Hwy. M, north of West Salem in the town of Hamilton, to find Todd Kendhammer and his dying wife.

Kendhammer told authorities he was driving north on a straight, flat stretch of Hwy. M about 8 a.m. when a 53-inch pipe fell from an oncoming flatbed truck, pierced the passenger side of the windshield and struck his 46-year-old wife. He said he drove about 100 yards north while trying to remove the 10-pound galvanized steel pipe from his wife, turned east onto Bergum Coulee Road and drove another 100 yards before the car rolled backward into a grassy embankment.

Kendhammer said he removed the pipe from the windshield and his wife from the passenger seat, and tried CPR before calling 911 at 8:06 a.m., according to the criminal complaint in the case. Barbara Kendhammer died the next day, Sept. 17, just weeks after the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary.

Todd and Barbara Kendhammer’s adult children and other family sat behind him in the courtroom all week.

Here are some highlights from the first week of the trial:

Day 1: Jury selection

Attorneys on Monday narrowed a pool of about 50 potential jurors to a panel of 11 women and four men, including three alternates, for the 10-day trial.

Day 1: Todd Kendhammer trial

Todd Kendhammer of West Salem is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the September 2016 death of his wife. His defense team will present its case after the prosecution rests its case Monday morning.

Attorneys pressed potential jurors on whether they could set aside their opinions of the case developed from pretrial publicity and fairly weigh the evidence presented in court.

Day 2: Opening statements

Day 2: Todd Kendhammer trial

La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke speaks to the jury during his opening statement. Todd Kendhammer, 47, of West Salem, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the September 2016 death of his wife, Barbara.

Todd Kendhammer’s attorneys said experts will testify that his wife’s injuries were consistent with an airborne pipe piercing the Camry’s windshield and that evidence recovered from the vehicle matches the husband’s account of a freak crash.

“I won’t pretend I know everything that happened that day,” La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke told the jurors in his opening statement. “The only person who can tell us what happened that day is telling us a story that isn’t true.”

In his opening statement, defense attorney Stephen Hurley told jurors that the Kendhammers’ was a “quiet but amazing love story.”

“Barb and Todd, you’ll hear, never argued,” Hurley said.

On the first day of testimony, the jury watched video captured at the scene by the camera in the squad car of a West Salem police officer.

Day 2: Todd Kendhammer trial

Todd Kendhammer's attorney Stephen Hurley addresses the jury during his opening statement. 

Video from a nearby business on Hwy. M that showed a vehicle that appeared to be the Kendhammers’ car did not show a flatbed truck traveling south around the time of the incident. The couple was heading toward Holmen, opposite the direction of West Salem Middle School, where Barb Kendhammer was scheduled to work at 8 a.m.

Day 3: Todd Kendhammer trial

Forensic pathologist Kathleen McCubbin testifies during cross examination. McCubbin performed the autopsy on Barbara Kendhammer.

Day 3: Forensic evidence

A forensic pathologist testified that Barb Kendhammer’s head and neck injuries did not match her husband’s account of a freak car crash.

“I don’t see any injury that is consistent with a pipe coming through the windshield,” Kathleen McCubbin told the jury. McCubbin performed an autopsy on Barb Kendhammer’s body in Madison.

Barb sustained bruising and abrasions on her forehead, a bruise on her jawline that extended to her neck, a fractured nose, scrapes on her neck, and dark bruising inside her lips, McCubbin said.

Barb suffered swelling and bleeding to her brain, a fractured skull and three bone-deep cuts to the back of her head from at least two impacts.

“A pipe traveling at that speed would cause worse injuries,” McCubbin testified. “It would tear the scalp, as opposed to three separate lacerations.”

Barb also had a fractured ring of cartilage in her trachea, consistent with strangulation or the neck striking a hard surface, McCubbin said.

On cross-examination, McCubbin said it’s possible the pipe struck Barb more than once if she was moving when it pierced the glass.

Barb’s injuries, McCubbin said, also were consistent with a beating. There was no impact site from a pipe.

Passerby Randy Erler testified that he was en route to install drywall at a house on Bergum Coulee Road when he saw the Camry half in the ditch. The passenger door was open, but he did not see or hear anyone around the car when he slowed his truck to 4 or 5 mph.

“Did you see any damage to the windshield?” Gruenke asked.

“No, I did not. I looked through it,” Erler said.

Day 4: The police interview

Todd Kendhammer left the courtroom crying Wednesday morning as a videotape of his 3½-hour interrogation by police was played for the jury. On the tape, he repeatedly denied hurting his wife but conceded that a single blow from a pipe couldn’t account for his wife’s wide-ranging injuries.

“If I was going to do something to my wife,” Kendhammer said during his interrogation, “I sure as hell wouldn’t have done it like this.”

Kendhammer couldn’t recall how he removed his wife from the passenger seat, then told investigators he yanked her from the car, possibly with his hands around her neck and leg.

“But I don’t know,” he said. “I was in panic mode.”

Day 4: Todd Kendhammer trial

La Crosse County Sheriff's Department investigator Fritz Leinfelder, left, watches the interview of Todd Kendhammer from the witness stand during the fourth day of Kendhammer's homicide trial.

Kendhammer bounced and swung his knee during the circuitous taped interview as investigators asked him to explain inconsistencies in his account of the couple’s destination that morning, his version of the incident and what caused her many and varied serious injuries.

“Are you guys insinuating that I did this to my wife?” Kendhammer asked.

“I’m not insinuating anything at this point,” La Crosse County sheriff’s investigator Fritz Leinfelder said.

“I’m not changing my story,” Kendhammer said.

Kendhammer met with investigators under the impression he would review surveillance videos. He didn’t ask for an attorney or to leave the interview.

Kendhammer insisted that he had no reason to harm his wife, and encouraged investigators to comb through his finances, computer and cell phones.

Defense attorney Stephen Hurley accused Leinfelder of badgering Kendhammer for hours and trying to extract a confession on the day before his wife’s funeral.

Day 5: The glass and the pipe

The glass fractures on the Camry’s windshield show that an object struck the exterior of the glass before a pipe broke through, according to testimony FROM State Crime Laboratory forensic scientist Nick Stahlke.

Day 5: Todd Kendhammer trial

State Crime Laboratory DNA analyst Kevin Scott testifies Friday at the La Crosse County Courthouse during the trial of Todd Kendhammer, charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the September 2016 death of his wife, Barbara. An autopsy photo of Barbara Kendhammer’s hand is shown as evidence.


Kendhammer told investigators that he thought the airborne object was a bird but also said he saw a pipe roll from an oncoming flatbed truck with metal sides.

The 53-inch, 10-pound galvanized steel pipe recovered after the incident entered the windshield 4.02 feet from the ground, said Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Michael Marquardt, who works in the agency’s technical reconstruction unit.

There was no blood on Barb’s headrest, on the passenger side of the windshield or on the passenger door, Stahlke said.

There was blood on the center console, on Barb’s seat belt, the front EDGE of her seat and on the passenger-side floor mat, he said.

He did not see blood on the pipe recovered at the scene and a test done on one end of the pipe was negative for blood, Stahlke said.

Barb’s DNA is on both ends of the pipe, crime lab DNA analyst Kevin Scott testified.

It is 46 quadrillion times more likely that DNA recovered from one of Barbara’s fingernail clippings from her right hand is a mixture of Barb’s and her husband’s than that of Barb and a random person, Scott testified.

Kendhammer had scratches on his neck and chest, but “we don’t know how DNA got on any object,” Scott said.

There was no blood on the windshield but Todd Kendhammer’s DNA was on both sides of the glass, Scott said.

This week

The defense is slated to begin calling witnesses Monday after the prosecution rests its case.

Defense attorney Hurley in his opening statement told the jury that glass, biomechanics, medical and other experts will testify that the glass fracture pattern and Barb’s injuries were “thoroughly consistent” with her husband’s account of the crash.

Will Todd Kendhammer testify in his own defense? Only the defense knows, and Kendhammer’s attorneys have not responded to questions from the media since authorities arrested their client.

After the defense makes its case, closing statements by the prosecution and defense, and the judge’s instructions to the jury, the jury will begin deliberations.

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Anne Jungen, Avery Van Gaard and Marc Wehrs contributed to this report.


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