Todd Kendhammer’s attorneys are considering asking for an out-of-county jury in his upcoming trial for the September 2016 death of his wife.
About 50 potential jurors screened through questionnaires indicated they believe Kendhammer is guilty or probably guilty, his attorney Stephen Hurley said in court Tuesday.
Kendhammer’s attorneys said they are concerned about the volume of pretrial publicity. Hurley noted that a Tribune reporter received a questionnaire as part of the regular juror-screening process and that the reporter, who has not covered the case, responded that he has talked to investigators in the past. Hurley also accused “certain members of the sheriff’s department” of persuading witnesses and family members that Kendhammer is responsible for his wife’s death.
Seeking an out-of-county jury would likely delay Kendhammer’s 10-day first-degree intentional homicide trial set to begin Dec. 4 in La Crosse County Circuit Court. Kendhammer, Hurley said, wants the case tried next month “in the hope he can get on with his life.”
“You better get your decision done, very quickly,” Circuit Judge Todd Bjerke said.
The judge on Tuesday ruled that jurors will visit the scene in the town of Hamilton where Kendhammer said a freak car accident took his wife’s life.
“It allows the state to present its case appropriately, from their perspective,” Bjerke said.
District Attorney Tim Gruenke argued that taking jurors to Hwy. M and Bergum Coulee Road to observe the road and distance Kendhammer drove after he said an airborne pipe pierced his windshield and struck his wife, Barbara, will help the panel understand the evidence.
Hurley objected, arguing that the panel can rely instead on photographs and videos of the scene.
“I just don’t think, in this case, going to the scene will clarify because we are going at a different time of year,” he said. “There is a substantial change with the foliage. The jury will come away with a different perspective.”
Kendhammer, 47, told authorities he was driving the couple’s Toyota Camry north on a straight and flat stretch of Hwy. M south of Bergum Coulee Road about 8 a.m. Sept. 16 when a 53-inch pipe fell from an oncoming flatbed truck and impaled the passenger side of the windshield, striking his 46-year-old wife, according to the criminal complaint.
He continued to drive about 100 yards north while trying to remove the 10-pound galvanized steel pipe from his wife, then turned east onto Bergum Coulee Road and drove another 100 yards before the car rolled backward into a grassy embankment, according to court records.
Kendhammer removed the pipe from the windshield and his wife from the passenger seat and tried CPR for three to five minutes before calling 911 at 8:06 a.m., according to the complaint. Barbara Kendhammer died the next day at a hospital.
A passerby said he spotted the Camry half in the ditch on Bergum Coulee Road with its passenger door open and its windshield intact, the complaint stated. He did not see the couple as he drove slowly past the car.
A medical examiner in an autopsy found extensive blunt impact injuries to the front and back of Barbara’s head and neck that did not match her husband’s description of an airborne pipe piercing the windshield and striking her, according to court testimony.
A State Crime Laboratory analyst determined the pipe hit the passenger side of the windshield at least once before it broke through. Bloodstains patterns indicate Barbara was inside the car when “force” that was “consistent with a beating” was applied, according to the crime lab, and the spread of glass particles indicate the windshield was smashed when she was not in the car.
There was no blood on the pipe.
Kendhammer told investigators the couple was on the way to Holmen to pick up a truck to replace its windshield when his wife was injured in the accident, although she was scheduled to work at 8 a.m. at West Salem Middle School. The vehicle’s owner said he did not arrange the repair, according to the complaint.
From Tribune files: Coverage of Kendhammer homicide case
The Tribune's coverage of the case against Todd Kendhammer, charged in the Sept. 17 death of his wife.
Todd Kendhammer’s arrest came 81 days after he told authorities an airborne pipe pierced his car's windshield and struck his wife of 25 years.
A West Salem man charged with killing his wife and trying to cover up the crime by staging a traffic crash was released from custody Friday af…
A West Salem woman did not die from a pipe that impaled a windshield, and the spread of blood inside her car is consistent with a beating, acc…
A West Salem man killed his wife early Sept. 16 and tried to conceal her fatal injuries by staging an implausible traffic crash on a rural La …