Monday - December 11, 2017 12:51 am

La Crosse murder trial — city's 3rd in 4 years — getting national attention

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The state officially rests its case today at the La Crosse murder trial of Todd Kendhammer, as the second week of the trial begins. 

The trial is getting national media attention. Dateline NBC sent staff to La Crosse to cover the case, and the Ashleigh Banfield program on HLN also has reported on the trial's progress.

This is the third time in four years that a high-profile murder case has been tried in La Crosse just before Christmas.

Last December, a jury found Haron Joyner guilty of stabbing his wife to death. In 2014, Mitrel Anderson was acquitted of murder in the fatal stabbing of another man in a Kwik Trip restroom.

The Kendhammer defense will call its first witnesses, though some of its tentative witnesses were already called last week by the district attorney.

One dramatic moment of the trial so far occurred when video from a sheriff's department interrogation of Kendhammer was shown in court.

Kendhammer claims his wife Barbara was killed by a pipe crashing through a car window near West Salem, Wis., last year.

Medical examiner Kathleen McCubbin cast doubt on the pipe theory during her testimony last week.

"I have never seen that pattern of injury in any of the motor vehicle accident autopsies that I have performed," she told the court. "So I would not say that they're probable."

Police believe the couple got into a physical fight, and Todd may have beaten and strangled his wife, making up the pipe story to cover up the attack.

Experts on DNA and glass dominated the testimony Friday.

DAY 4: KENDHAMMER DEFENSE LOOKS FOR FLAWS IN POLICE QUESTIONING

When La Crosse area police began to poke holes in Todd Kendhammer's story about a fatal car accident, the 47-year-old didn't have many answers. 

But the West Salem, Wis., man, heading into the fifth day of the trial for murdering his wife, insisted that he did nothing wrong.

Thursday, jurors viewed a three-hour video of sheriff's department questioning whether Kendhammer had beaten his wife and faked the car accident.

An accusation that sheriff's officers badgered the grieving spouse of a crash victim was part of that courtroom testimony.

"I know we're called the Badger state but you think badgering someone is a good way to get information," Defense attorney Stephen Hurley asked investigator Fritz Leinfelder.

The video showed Leinfelder and a sheriff's sergeant pushing Todd Kendhammer to explain how his wife Barbara could have gotten multiple injuries from a pipe allegedly crashing through a car window. Todd repeatedly told the officers that he had no reason to kill his wife of 25 years, and fake a car accident.

Also during the video, Kendhammer said that if he had wanted to kill his wife, he could have used one of the many guns he owns.

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

Other testimony included attempts to find the truck, which Kendhammer said dropped a pipe that flew through his car window and killed his wife.

Much of Kendhammer's defense in the trial depends on whether a jury believes that his wife was killed by that pipe.

Testimony also covered trying to pinpoint Kendhammer's wife was that day by tracking the GPS of her phone.

DAY 3: PIPE IMPALING WIFE DOESN'T MATCH WOUNDS, EXAMINER TESTIFIES

Courtroom arguments aren't likely to change the results of an autopsy in the first-degree intentional homicide of Barbara Kendhammer. 

That was the position of medical examiner Kathleen McCubbin on Wednesday, the third day of Todd Kendhammer's murder trial in La Crosse County Circuit Court. The 47-year-old West Salem, Wis., man is accused of fatally beating his wife.

Although Todd and his defense team said his wife was killed by a metal pipe that crashed through a car window, McCubbin, a forensic pathologist, said that argument doesn't change the nature of several wounds found on Barb's body.

"For the reasons I stated previously, the multitude of injuries, the lack of any impact that I feel is consistent with a pipe impaling her, and the concerning injuries on the neck, in particular," McCubbin, pictured below, said.

McCubbin, who performed an autopsy on Barbara, stuck by her findings from a year ago that Barbara was more likely killed by a person than a flying metal pipe.

McCubbin commented on photos and drawings from the autopsy, and said she doesn't believe many of Barbara's wounds could have resulted from a pipe crashing through the window of a moving car.

"There's three lacerations on the back of the head, and I don't see that as consistent with a pipe striking the back of the head," she said. “A pipe traveling at that speed would cause worse injuries. It would tear the scalp, as opposed to three separate lacerations.”

Other witnesses Wednesday were questioned about the condition of the Kendhammer car on the day of the alleged accident, and why Barb would be in a car with Todd around the time she was supposed to be at work in West Salem.

Todd Kendhammer's lawyers claimed the La Crosse County Sheriff's Dept. lied to him to get him to headquarters for questioning.

According to one sergeant, who grilled Kendhammer about his wife's death, there was a little bending of the truth. Retired sheriff's dept. Sgt. Mark Yehle testified that investigators told Todd they wanted him to see some video of the site where he claims a flying pipe killed his wife Barb.

Yehle said they didn't really plan to show Todd those videos but they worry that people won't show up if they know they're going to be questioned about a crime.

The Kendhammer jury also heard a tape of Yehle driving Todd around the area of the alleged accident.

Prosecution witnesses will continue today, on the fourth of the 10-day trail.

DAY 2: Jury hears 911 call, sees pipe that allegedly killed West Salem woman

A rusty metal pipe, which Todd Kendhammer claims crashed through his windshield and killed his wife, is a centerpiece of courtroom testimony in Todd Kendhammer's murder trial.

The 47-year-old is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the Sept. 17, 2016, death of his wife.

In court Tuesday on the first day of the trial, jurors saw the 4-foot-long pipe that Kendhammer alleges flew off an oncoming truck and through his car's window, impaling his wife in the passenger scene. 

Sheriff's Capt. John Zimmerman spoke about handling the pipe at the scene, where police found the Kendhammer car on a rural road around 8 a.m. Sept. 16, 2016

The defense said the pipe hit and eventually killed 46-year-old Barbara Kendhammer. La Crosse District Attorney Tim Gruenke, however, argued there was no truck and no pipe.

Gruenke cites the account of a witness who drove by the Kendhammer car, which was in the ditch. The driver did not stop to help.

"He can see through the windshield because he could see that the passenger door was slightly open," Gruenke argued. "He slowed down because he didn't want to hit anybody running out and he said if he would have seen the cracks (in the window) he would have stopped for help."

Investigators say her fatal injuries were too severe to have been caused by a pipe breaking a window, and they believe 47-year-old Todd Kendhammer beat his wife, then faked the car accident.

The prosecution also presented police videos and photos of the reported accident scene.

Defense attorney Stephen Hurley said Todd Kendhammer saw the pipe headed for their car from an oncoming truck.

"And he struck his fist into the windshield from the inside in order to prevent the pipe from striking," Hurley argued. "He was unsuccessful in stopping the pipe and it came through and struck Barbara Kendhammer."

District attorney Tim Gruenke said evidence doesn't support that version of events.

DAY 1: JURY SELECTED IN KENDHAMMER MURDER TRIAL

After nearly a full day was needed to select a jury, the first-degree murder trial of Todd Kendhammer officially starts Tuesday in La Crosse.

The 47-year-old West Salem, Wis., man is suspected of fatally beating his wife, while faking a highway accident to explain her injuries.

The jury will be made up of 11 women and four men, as well as three alternates.

That jury's first duty will be a trip Tuesday morning to the scene of the accident that allegedly killed Kendhammer's 47-year-old wife, Barbara.

Defense lawyers in the case had tried to prevent the jury from visiting the scene today, out of concern that if there was snow on the ground, the area would not look the same as it did on the day of the alleged accident.

It's there, on Hwy. M, where he told police that a steel pipe crashed through the window of their Toyota Camry around 8 a.m. Sept. 16, 2016. The pipe, supposedly flew from an oncoming truck and impaled his wife. She died in the hospital the next day.

According to court records, after the pipe hit his wife, Todd Kendhammer said he drove another 100 yards while trying to remove the pipe. He then turned onto Bergum Coulee Rd. and drove another 100 yards before the car rolled backward into an embankment.

After removing the pipe, then his wife from the passenger seat, he said he tried CPR for around 5 minutes before calling 911, the complaint read. A witness who drove by saw the car in the ditch but said the window was not broken. He also did not see the couple before driving on.

Investigators initially tried recreating Kendhammer's story but were unsuccessful. They concluded that Barbara Kenhammer was not sitting in the car when the pipe broke the windshield.

Police say physical evidence suggests that Barbara Kendhammer was beaten to death and, also, that the accident didn't really happen.

An autopsy showed the woman died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries including lacerations in the back of her head, a broken nose, a skull fracture and lip contusions.

Sheriff's deputy Jeff Wolf had questioned Todd Kendhammer about scrapes on his hands.

"He stated that he works with glass and that he gets cut frequently," Wolf told the court last December.

Prosecutors argued Barbara Kendhammer's injuries to were too severe and widespread to have been caused by a flying pipe.

Video surveillance was also unable to locate the truck he described.

Last modified on Monday - December 11, 2017 2:55 am
Brad Williams

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from U-W-La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area.  Brad writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse.  He's been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.  

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