DA: Rape suspect wanted victim killed

CLAVERACK–A Warren County man previously accused of raping a 14-year-old Columbia County girl now faces charges that he attempted to convince an inmate at the Columbia County Jail to murder the child.

Perry Pendell, 47, of Chestertown, has been awaiting trial at the jail following his arrest April 5 and indictment in May on 27 counts of rape and child pornography involving the 13-year-old girl, whom he met over the Internet. He was brought to the temporary county courthouse on Route 23B in Claverack Tuesday, July 16, where a new indictment was unsealed, charging him with second degree criminal solicitation, a Class D felony, for soliciting another person to commit second degree murder.

At the arraignment before County Court Judge Richard Koweek, Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka told the court that between June 23 and July 7 of 2013 Mr. Pendell is alleged to have solicited another inmate, who was not named, to “murder the victim” for $100,000. Mr. Czajka said the amount offered by Mr. Pendell was later “modified to $125,000.”

Through his lawyer, county Public Defender Robert W. Linville, Mr. Pendell pleaded not guilty. Mr. Pendell did not make a statement during the brief proceedings.

Bail had been set for Mr. Pendell at $1 million following his arrest in May. But in responding to a request from the DA Tuesday, Judge Koweek said, “It is appropriate that the defendant be held without bail.”

Speaking after the arraignment adjourned Mr. Czajka offered a motive for Mr. Pendell’s alleged solicitation to murder, saying, “Presumably he was worried about her testimony,” a reference to the alleged rape victim.

He said that the inmate who’d been solicited had approached officials at the jail to report the first alleged offer of $100,000 to murder the girl. “Fortunately, he solicited the wrong inmate, who came forward,” Mr. Czajka said.

The district attorney said he and jail officials were aware of the second, larger alleged offer of $125,000 before it was made.

Asked whether testimony of the inmate in this case might be suspect, Mr. Czajka said, “The credibility of witnesses is an issue in every trial,” but he added that he was “extremely confident” that this case would stand up. The district attorney said he plans to try the case himself. He did not indicate whether there are any recordings or other witnesses to the inmate’s alleged discussions with Mr. Pendell.

Mr. Czajka commended the police work on the case of county Sheriff David Harrison Jr. and Sheriff’s Office Senior Investigator Bill Foster.

“I don’t ever remember this happening in Columbia County,” the DA said of the most recent allegations. Mr. Czaka was district attorney and then county judge before returning to his current position.

Mr. Linville did not make a statement after Tuesday’s proceeding, but prior to the arraignment he spoke with a reporter and emphasized that all the defendants represented by his office are innocent unless either they are found guilty at trial or plead guilty.

In court Mr. Linville told the judge he was appearing on behalf of Mr. Pendell only for the arraignment. Mr. Pendell’s lawyer for the initial charges, Marck A. Zuckerman of Warren County, was also in court but did not sit at the defense table.

Judge Koweek set August 13 at 1 p.m. for the next hearing in the case.

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