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Woman charged with arson to undergo mental evaluation

A Brainerd woman charged with arson in connection with a July house fire will undergo court ordered mental evaluations to determine if she is competent to proceed in her criminal case in Crow Wing County District Court.

Tami Pendagayosh
Tami Pendagayosh

A Brainerd woman charged with arson in connection with a July house fire will undergo court ordered mental evaluations to determine if she is competent to proceed in her criminal case in Crow Wing County District Court.

Tami Jo Pendegayosh, 32, Brainerd, is accused of burning down a house she rented on July 20 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 attorney, Carolyn Agin Schmidt of Minneapolis, filed a letter on Feb. 20 with Judge Kristine DeMay requesting 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.

In the letter, Schmidt said, "it has come to my attention that my client has a number of mental and neurological disorders that may have a bearing on Ms. Pendegayosh's ability to understand the nature of her acts if she did in fact commit the charges herein."

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Schmidt said her client's medical history shows she was diagnosed with a form of epileptic seizure, a condition where a person is on "automatic pilot" and does not know what they are doing or can't remember it afterwards. Schmidt said her client mentioned to her that she was experiencing episodes around the time of the events.

On Feb. 20, Pendegayosh also pleaded not guilty to the charges by reason of mental illness or deficiency. In the court document filed, it states the "defendant should not be held responsible for actions she does not know she is committing and she cannot aid in her defense since she does not remember the events in question."

A contested hearing on the matter was scheduled Tuesday, and the order for the Rule 20 evaluations will proceed.

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.

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• 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 jennifer.stockinger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5851. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl .

Related Topics: CRIME
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