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Day 5: Crime lab witness in Kendhammer case says windshield damaged before pipe broke through

From the From Tribune files: Todd Kendhammer found guilty of murdering wife series
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The glass fracture pattern on Todd Kendhammer’s windshield revealed that an object struck the exterior of the glass before a pipe broke through, shattering his version of the freak car crash he said killed his wife, according to testimony Friday in his trial.

Multiple cracks run through a 1½-inch diameter piece of glass broken out by the pipe in front of the passenger seat and the windshield was damaged twice on the inside first, State Crime Laboratory forensic scientist Nick Stahlke testified.

Kendhammer, on trial for first-degree intentional homicide in La Crosse County Circuit, maintains his wife, Barbara, died after a pipe fell from an oncoming truck and penetrated the windshield of their car on a rural highway last year, while prosecutors contend the 47-year-old West Salem man drove the pipe through the window to disguise the cause of her death.

Prosecutors will rest their case early Monday, the last of 19 witnesses for the state having testified.

Kendhammer told investigators that he thought the airborne object was a bird but also said he witnessed a pipe roll from an oncoming flatbed truck with metal sides while the couple was driving to Holmen on Hwy. M in the town of Hamilton about 8 a.m. Sept. 16.

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.

Kendhammer said he lunged forward trying to deflect the pipe, smashing his fist into the windshield. With his wife thrashing in the passenger seat, he said, he drove about 100 yards north and another 100 yards east on Bergum Coulee Road, where the couple’s Toyota Camry slid into reverse and rolled backward into a grass ditch.

After he pulled the pipe from the windshield, Kendhammer said, he couldn’t recall how he removed his wife from the passenger seat, and then told investigators he yanked her from the car, possibly with his hands around her neck and leg. He tried CPR for three to five minutes before calling 911 at 8:06 a.m. Barb, 46, died the next day at a hospital.

No truck matching the description provided by Kendhammer is on surveillance video in the area the morning of the incident.

Throughout his interrogation by police, Kendhammer maintained that he is not responsible for his wife’s death but stammered when investigators pressed him to explain how his version of the incident could account for her broken nose, interior lip bruises, crushed cartilage in her throat, fractured skull and three bone-deep gashes on the back of her head.

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 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. An initial test done on the pipe revealed a possible presence of blood but analysts did not perform additional tests. Rust, Scott testified, would trigger a false positive test.

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 Barbara’s and her husband’s than that of Barbara 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.

Stahlke found “a lot” of glass particles on the passenger seat, but none in the map pocket of the passenger door.

“Just the fact that dirt and glass were present on the cushion seat would indicate no one was in the seat when those substances were distributed,” he said.

“Did you assume the person was sitting in a moving automobile?” defense attorney Stephen Hurley asked Stahlke on cross-examination.

“It makes no difference,” he said.

“Did you assume the person in that seat didn’t have a seizure?”

“A body that would be in positioned anywhere in the front seat area is going to take up some space.”

“Did you assume that a person belted into that seat might be subjected to the forces that come with making a hard right-hand turn at a high rate of speed?”

“I made no assumptions other than a body was seated in the front seat area and that they were belted.”

There was no blood on the windshield but Kendhammer’s DNA was on both sides of the glass, Scott said. The windshield was exposed to rain on the morning of the incident.

The defense begins its case on Monday.


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