News and HeadlinesIndianapolis Local NewsCrime

Actions

Georgetown students seek to exonerate Indiana prisoner Sarah Jo Pender who they say was 'wrongly convicted'

Pender's case is among 5 to be examined in undergrad advocacy project "Making an Exoneree"
Sarah Pender portrait.JPG
Posted at 4:26 PM, Mar 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-10 16:56:31-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Students at Georgetown University are joining a growing list of people seeking to exonerate Sarah Jo Pender, an Indianapolis woman serving 110 years in prison for double murder.

Pender's case is among five that students taking a class called "Making an Exoneree" will be reinvestigating in a new video and social media push aimed at overturning her conviction.

Sarah Pender portrait.JPG
Sarah Jo Pender speaks to WRTV at the Rockville Correctional Facility on Jan. 13, 2023.

"Making an Exoneree (is) Georgetown University’s unprecedented course in which a group of dedicated undergraduate students reinvestigate likely wrongful conviction cases," the university said in an announcement posted on its website. "By the end of the semester, (the students) will have created short documentaries based on their investigations and interviews, as well as online campaigns advocating for freedom."

Pender, 43, is in the Rockville Correctional Facility serving a sentence for the October 2000 shotgun murders of her roommates Andrew Cataldi and Tricia Nordman.

Over the years, doubts have been raised about the reliability of witnesses and evidence that was used to convict Pender.

Even the prosecutor who led the case that put her behind bars, the same man who gave Pender the nickname “female Charles Manson” back in 2002, now believes she deserves her freedom.

Larry Sells portrait.jpg
Larry Sells.

"I have learned things since Sarah Pender’s trial and conviction in 2002 that convince me that important evidence presented at her trial was tainted and that her murder convictions should be set aside," retired Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Sells told WRTV.

"Justice is long overdue for Sarah Pender. Unfortunately, the legal system has to date failed her, but that grievous error can and should be corrected."

The Georgetown students are sorting through court records and have contacted Pender and her family, the university said.

The students at Georgetown, working with students at University of California, Santa Cruz, will produce documentaries, websites and social media campaigns aimed at winning freedom for Pender and the others they are helping this semester.

“It’s wild how quickly this program moves,” student Jacob Livesay said in the Georgetown announcement. “I met my team just two weeks ago, and we have already become fierce advocates for the exoneration of Sarah Jo Pender.”

“Just two weeks in, I can already tell working to overturn wrongful convictions is something I’m going to be passionate about for the rest of my life,” Livesay said.

Georgetown's "Making an Exoneree" class launched in 2018 and has helped win freedom for five former prisoners, the university said.

More: He once called her the 'female Charles Manson'; now this prosecutor believes Sarah Jo Pender deserves freedom

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.