Judge taking arson case under advisement
The case against a woman charged with first-degree arson in connection with a 2014 Brainerd house fire is under advisement pending a judge's review. Tami Jo Pendegayosh, 32, Garrison and of Brainerd, is accused of burning down a house she rented ...
The case against a woman charged with first-degree arson in connection with a 2014 Brainerd house fire is under advisement pending a judge's review.
Tami Jo Pendegayosh, 32, Garrison and of Brainerd, is accused of burning down a house she rented on July 20, 2014, on the 1100 block of Norwood Street in Brainerd. Pendegayosh was charged Sept. 30, 2014, with two counts of first-degree arson of a dwelling in Crow Wing County District Court. Both felonies carry a maximum 20-year sentence and/or a $20,000 fine.
Pendegayosh's last court hearing was March 9, and Judge David Ten Eyck is taking the case under advisement.
Pendegayosh underwent court-ordered mental evaluations last spring to determine if she would be competent to proceed in her criminal case. At the time, Pendegayosh's attorney, Carolyn Agin Schmidt of Minneapolis, requested her client undergo Rule 20.01 and Rule 20.02 evaluations because Pendegayosh suffers from a number of mental and neurological disorders.
The 20.01 evaluation was requested because Pendegayosh stated she cannot remember anything from the events and therefore she cannot aid in her defense; and the 20.02 evaluation is to explore her condition further and to have an expert determine her ability to understand the nature of her actions while experiencing one of her episodes.
According to court documents, the evaluation findings were filed June 25, 2015, and are confidential. On Oct. 21, 2015, Pendegayosh pleaded guilty to one count of felony first-degree arson and entered an Alford Plea a day later. With an Alford plea, a defendant doesn't admit guilt but admits the prosecution could likely prove the charge.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Pendegayosh:
• Brainerd Police Department responded to a fire on July 20, 2014, at a residence at 1100 Norwood St., Brainerd. The house was rented by Pendegayosh and Travis Pietz.
• Officers spoke to Pietz, who advised he and Pendegayosh have children who reside at the residence with them. The children were going to be gone overnight on July 19 so they planned a date night. When they returned home, Pietz stepped outside to smoke and Pendegayosh went inside the residence with a bag of merchandise they had purchased at Wal-Mart. As Pietz was finishing his cigarette, Pendegayosh came outside with the dog leash wanting to take the dog for a walk. Pietz thought it looked suspicious because Pendegayosh doesn't like the dog and has never wanted to take the dog for a walk. They went into the residence and were inside for a couple of minutes when the smoke detector in the kitchen went off. Pietz went into the kitchen and observed a roll of toilet paper on fire on the stove. The stove was on almost to the full heat position. The toilet paper had not been on the stove when they left the residence and the stove was off.
• Pietz got his gun and cleared the residence and found no one inside. He noticed the bag of merchandise Pendegayosh had carried in from the car was near the stove in the kitchen.
• The next day, Pietz left the residence to pick his kids up in Pillager so they could see a movie at 12:35 p.m. When he left, Pendegayosh was inside the residence taking a nap. Pietz was heading back into Brainerd with his kids when a friend called him to tell him the residence was on fire. The dog was still in the residence and a neighbor who saw the fire kicked the door in. A neighbor was outside prior to the fire and said the dog would have barked if anyone other than Pietz or Pendegayosh entered the residence and the neighbor did not hear the dog barking.
• Pendegayosh spoke with a Brainerd investigator and the Minnesota State Fire Marshal and advised she didn't remember setting the fires, but knows she did it because she has flashbacks of herself with a lighter, lighting a piece of paper on fire and leaving the house.
• The investigator spoke to a witness who told him Pendegayosh had moved a basket of paperwork that was in the residence the day before the first fire. She also removed a tablet and charger. The charger was always plugged into the same place and did not need to be removed from the residence because the tablet held a charge for at least a day. Pendegayosh had purchased renter's insurance, but didn't tell Pietz about it. Pendegayosh was having some financial troubles at the time of the fire as well.
The investigator also learned she had wanted to move out of the rental property, but Pietz didn't want to move.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.