No death penalty in Everett couple’s murders

EVERETT — An Oregon man won’t face the death penalty for killing an Everett couple, but is expected to be sentenced Friday to life in prison after pleading guilty Monday to two counts of aggravated murder.

Lawyers for David “Joey” Pedersen had planned to argue Monday about the conditions of their client’s confinement in the Snohomish County Jail. They alleged that Pedersen, once an aspiring mixed martial arts fighter with a dismal record, had rapidly lost weight and was unjustly isolated because jail staff had classified him as a high-risk inmate.

It quickly became clear Monday morning that the defense and prosecutors had reached a resolution in the case against Pedersen, 31.

Before Monday’s hearing, Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe had not yet publicly announced whether he would seek the death penalty for Pedersen or his girlfriend, Holly Grigsby.

The Oregon pair, with ties to white supremacists, are accused of killing Pedersen’s estranged father, David “Red” Pedersen and his wife, Leslie “DeeDee” Pedersen, in September. The defendants also are suspects in slayings in Oregon and California, crimes that potentially could result in federal prosecution. Monday’s plea agreement has no affect on those cases.

Roe had planned to announce his decision next month. Instead, he released a statement Monday, immediately after Pedersen admitted to the Everett killings.

The prosecutor said he declined to pursue a death sentence after reviewing the police investigation, which had turned up “significant and credible” evidence that Red Pedersen had sexually abused his children and others decades ago. Joey Pedersen went public with the allegations after his arrest in October. He claimed the abuse was the reason why he chose to kill his father.

“Whether that was his true, sole or only motivation is less certain, but what is certain is that any jury considering his fate would first hear hours, days, or perhaps weeks of testimony on the subject, some of it from the actual victims of abuse,” Roe wrote.

The veteran attorney was one of the prosecutors who tried James Elledge, the last person from Snohomish County to be convicted of aggravated murder and executed. He also made the decision to seek the death penalty for an inmate accused of killing Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl.

Despite his belief that a death sentence would be justified in this case, Roe concluded that a jury wouldn’t unanimously agree to sentence Joey Pedersen to die after hearing testimony about the sexual abuse.

DeeDee Pedersen had nothing to do with the abuse, and wasn’t married to Red Pedersen at the time, Roe said.

“By all accounts, Leslie Pedersen was an incredibly lovely person who hadn’t harmed anyone in her entire life,” Roe wrote.

Her daughters, Lori Nemitz and Susan Ellis, attended Monday’s hearing, along with numerous friends.

The daughters believe that Joey Pedersen deserves to die for his crimes. Their mom was an innocent victim.

“I’m not happy. I can accept (the prosecutor’s) reasoning and I understand in some facets it offers us some protection for the family, not going through the horrors of a trial,” Nemitz said. “I’m still not happy. I still think he deserves the death penalty. Knowing that he’ll never be out walking the streets again is some comfort. Not a lot, but some.”

There is no justification for the killer’s actions, Nemitz said.

“Red’s past was not good. He still didn’t deserve it either. He didn’t deserve that death,” Nemitz said.

Joey Pedersen on Monday offered no explanation for his violence. Instead, he made a joke during the hearing that he’d been promised a double Whopper cheeseburger in exchange for his guilty plea. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Linda Krese quickly clarified with the defendant that he hadn’t been threatened or promised anything in exchange for admitting his responsibility for the murders.

Roe did not say Monday if he’ll seek the death penalty for Grigsby, who is accused of carrying out DeeDee Pedersen’s slaying. He said he expects to announce his decision after a separate review of the allegations against Grigsby, 25.

It would be unusual for Roe to seek the death penalty for one defendant and not the other. Death sentences are automatically reviewed by the appellate courts, and one factor is whether the punishment is proportional for others convicted of similar crimes.

Red and DeeDee Pedersen were slain after a rare visit by the younger Pedersen to his father’s Everett home in late September. Joey Pedersen had spent more than half of his life locked in prison, including an 11-year stint for threatening to murder a federal judge in Idaho. He was released from federal lock-up in May.

Prosecutors allege that Red Pedersen, 56, was shot once in the back of the head while he drove the Oregon pair to the bus station in Everett. Joey Pedersen was accused of firing the fatal shot. Investigators believe the pair returned to the Everett couple’s home to kill DeeDee Pedersen, 69. Police found her bound with duct tape. Her throat had been slashed. The evidence suggests that Grigsby wielded the knives, court papers said.

Prosecutors charged the case based on the theory that the killings were committed during a robbery that included stealing the Jeep and multiple credit and debit cards. The only punishment for aggravated murder in Washington is the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of release.

After their capture in California, the pair later told reporters that Joey Pedersen killed his father out of revenge for the years his father abused his sister. The suspects claimed DeeDee Pedersen knew about her husband’s past.

After the Everett homicides, the suspects reportedly fled back to Oregon in Red Pedersen’s Jeep. They ditched the vehicle off a logging road with the slain man still inside. They are suspected of crossing paths with Cody Myers, who left home to attend a jazz festival near the Oregon coast. Myers turned up dead from multiple gunshot wounds.

In a jailhouse interview after their arrest, Grigsby reportedly said that Myers was killed because he had a “Jewish sounding” last name. Myers, a devout Christian, was only 19.

Investigators believe the couple continued their path of violence into Eureka, Calif., where surveillance video reportedly shows Grigsby waiting outside a grocery store. That’s where she reportedly met Reginald Clark, a disabled black man.

Clark, 53, was found inside his pickup truck a couple blocks from the store. He’d been shot in the head. Joey Pedersen reportedly wrote a letter to an Oregon newspaper, explaining that they’d been looking to dump Myers’ car when they encountered Clark. Pedersen allegedly explained that they decided to kill a “non-white.” The pair didn’t end up taking Clark’s pickup.

They were arrested Oct. 5 north of Sacramento after an Oregon State Police officer spotted Myers’ car pulled off a rural road. The pair said they’d stopped to stretch. The officer remembered receiving a bulletin about the duo and the stolen car.

Grigsby later said they were headed to Sacramento to “kill more Jews.”

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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