David Joseph Pedersen wanted to start a white supremacist revolution, so he came up with a plan to massacre Jews in the Pacific Northwest in hopes of inspiring copycats.
Pedersen got caught before he could carry out such an attack — but not before he and an accomplice killed four people in fall 2011 during a 10-day crime rampage across Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
On Monday, a Portland federal judge sentenced Pedersen, 34, to two life terms without parole.
Then, in a thundering written opinion, Senior District Judge Ancer L. Haggerty criticized prosecutors for a “disturbing” series of oversights and ethical missteps. The errors were especially disturbing, he said, because officials had considered seeking the death penalty.
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Investigators failed to turn over huge swaths of evidence to the defense, and collected and listened to Pedersen’s confidential jailhouse phone calls with his attorneys, Haggerty said.
The judge accused the lead investigator, Oregon State Police Detective Dave Steele, of “backdating” evidence reports, reviewing Pedersen’s confidential attorney calls and letters, destroying evidence, lying to the U.S. attorney’s office and filing a false declaration with the court — a potentially criminal pattern of conduct.
“Given the breadth of his misconduct in this case, it is not difficult to imagine that he has committed similar misconduct in other cases,” the judge wrote, suggesting Steele might be prosecuted.
Pedersen’s crime spree began Sept. 26, 2011, with the slayings of his father, David Jones “Red” Pedersen, and stepmother, Leslie Mae “Dee Dee” Pedersen, in Snohomish County, Wash., according to court records.
Officials say that Pedersen shot his father, calling him a child molester, and that his partner in the spree, Holly Ann Grigsby, cut Dee Dee Pedersen’s throat.
The pair then traveled to Oregon, where, on Oct. 1, Pedersen shot and killed 19-year-old Cody Myers, stole his car and dumped his body in the woods, according to court records.
Next, they drove to Eureka, Calif., where Pedersen killed Reginald Alan Clark, 53, on Oct. 4.
The California Highway Patrol arrested them the next day. Pedersen had his father’s wallet, as well as phone numbers and addresses of Jewish organizations in Portland, officials said.
After his arrest, Pedersen wrote a letter to the Oregonian newspaper, saying he hoped his actions “would serve as an example for others to follow.”
In March 2012, he pleaded guilty in Snohomish County to Washington state charges of killing his parents. He received life without parole.
In August 2012, he was indicted in Oregon federal court for the entire crime spree. That’s when the trouble began.
Haggerty described a federal-state criminal investigation team spearheaded by the Oregon State Police as overwhelmed by the amount of evidence, to the point that prosecutors didn’t know what investigators had collected.
Spokesmen for the U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon and the Oregon State Police declined to comment.
The judge believed that prosecutors did not intentionally collect Pedersen’s calls with his attorneys, but said the chief investigator, Steele, apparently listened to the recordings.
Steele was suspended in December pending a criminal investigation. At one point, Steele’s attorney told the judge the detective would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself if he was asked to testify about the Pedersen investigation.
The status of the Steele investigation could not be determined. A spokesman for the Oregon State Police said he was still on leave “pending this matter.” Neither Steele nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
After the misconduct allegations emerged, the government announced in February that it would not seek the death penalty against Pedersen or his partner, Grigsby. She pleaded guilty in March and was sentenced July 15 to life without possibility of parole.
Pedersen pleaded guilty in April after accepting a plea deal, in which he reportedly secured lighter sentences for two accomplices who had helped get him a gun. He also got a sumptuous jailhouse meal of grilled salmon and dessert for himself and his attorneys.
“We knew he wanted to have a meal with his defense team. We didn’t have a problem with it,” U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall told the Oregonian in an email. “It wasn’t part of the plea agreement in our case. Beyond that, it was up to the jail what they did and how they did it.”
During his Monday sentencing, Pedersen told the court that “he felt it was ironic that those who were sworn to bring him to justice for the crimes he readily admitted to committing were unable to admit their own wrongdoing,” said Pedersen’s attorney, Richard Wolf.
“I offer no excuses because none are needed,” Pedersen said, according to the Oregonian. He added he was sorry he got caught “before I really got underway.”
Government mistakes, Haggerty said, pulled attention away from “the defendants’ crimes and the horrific consequences.”