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Defendant Todd Kendhammer is scheduled to take the witness stand at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, 8:30 a.m. Central time today on charges he killed his wife, Barbara Kendhammer, and blamed her death on a freak car accident. Kendhammer has maintained that a pipe fell off of a passing truck, and that in a flinch-like reaction, he tried to punch it out out of the way as it crashed into his windshield and injured his wife. He whipped onto a side road as his wife was losing consciousness, took his wife out of the car, and performed CPR on her after realizing she didn’t have a pulse. Paramedics arrived and took her to the hospital, where she later died.
A medical examiner testified that she did not believe Barbara Kendhammer’s injuries could have been caused by the pipe. Kendhammer told the authorities that he was on his way to check out a truck he heard about through a co-worker that needed a windshield repair. The person who owned the truck said he was not planning to replace the windshield, and police later told Kendhammer they didn’t think his story checked out. Prosecutors charged Kendhammer with first-degree intentional homicide.
The state rested its case in chief on Monday.
Mark Meshulam, a glass expert, testified for the defense. He said he viewed the Kendhammer vehicle in a sheriff’s department storage facility. He testified that at three different events caused the vehicle’s windshield to break, in this order: the first strike was caused by Todd Kendhammer’s fist striking the windshield; the second was caused by the pipe piercing the windshield; and the third was caused by the prying motion caused by the removal of the pipe. To make this conclusion, Meshulam told the jury that there are two types of cracking in the windshield. Radial fractures are “like the spokes of a wheel,” he said, while circular fractures look like concentric circles around the point of impact.
The first strike, he said, was caused by knuckles punching the windshield in an upward direction toward the passenger side and that the puncturing object was circular. The second strike, which he believes was caused by the pipe, created a hole in the windshield. Here, Meshulam says the pipe struck the bottom portion of the perforated hole first, then tore into the glass as it penetrated the windshield, as the top of the hole still contained a “flap” of safety glass. Meshulam testified that micro-particles of glass can be released from an impact and cause small abrasions on the skin. The third impact, he said, had a butterfly pattern, which indicates the defendant was reaching to pull the pipe from the windshield. During the extraction, some of the glass broke free from the windshield, and the pipe was extracted using a prying motion.
Meshulam testified that the cuts on Kendhammer’s hands were consistent with a hand striking glass. Meshulam also testified that the prosecution witness who claimed the windshield was not damaged when he happened upon the incident scene could have been mistaken and pointed to police photos of the scene which make it very hard to see the breaks in the windshield. The incident occurred in the early daylight hours of a rainy, cloudy day, and both sky reflection and condensation could have contributed to the mistake, he said.
Dr. Barry Bates, a professor who studies human performance and biomechanics, testified that he studies forces caused by and forces acting upon the human body. He testified that Barbara Kendhammer’s injuries could have been caused by the pipe coming through the window. He said the pipe impact would have been forceful enough to cause cuts to the victim’s skull and also fractures to the back of her head. He said he directly disagreed with with state’s medical examiner in what caused the victim’s injuries, but said she was looking at things from a medical perspective while he was looking at things from a biomechanical perspective. Bates testified that he was earning an eye-popping $14,000 for reviewing records and testifying in this case and admitted on cross-examination that the injuries the victim suffered could also have been caused by an attack.
Jurors have been allowed to ask questions during this trial. One juror asked Dr. Bates if the injuries to the side of the victim’s head could have been caused by someone swinging the pipe like a baseball bat and hitting the victim in the head. Dr. Bates said the it was possible to cause surface damage but not the specific skull fractures that the victim suffered through such an impact.
A second question seemed to go beyond the expert’s specific scope of knowledge, but the judge allowed it: if a first could fracture the windshield, wouldn’t the pipe, if used in a standing position, generate more force? The witness answered, yes, it was possible, if the person throwing the pipe was in the proper position.
A third question asked whether the defendant would have suffered more than just scratches on his knuckles from reaching over and punching the windshield. Dr. Bates said that the scratching on the defendant’s hands could also have come from scraping the rear view mirror.
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