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Published: Saturday, October 22, 2011, 12:20
By Lynne Terry The Associated Press
David “Joey” Pedersen, appearing with his lawyer Gil Levy, pleads not guilty to two counts of aggravated murder in the death of his father, David “Red” Pedersen and Leslie “DeeDee” Pedersen, in Snohomish County Superior Court in Washington this past week.
Holly Perez got the call from her stepsister in Washington state. Her stepmother was dead, her father missing. Maybe he was killed, too. Her brother, David “Joey” Pedersen, and his girlfriend were suspects and on the loose.
Perez had cut off contact with her brother 14 years ago after he first went to prison. Still, she was shocked by that Sept. 29 call. Then, with killings in Oregon and California, she got scared: What if her brother came after her and her family?
Perez, who lives in Marion County, no longer has to worry about that. Pedersen, 31, and his girlfriend, Holly Ann Grigsby, 24, are locked in jail in Snohomish County, Wash., facing two counts of aggravated first-degree murder. Both are convicted felons who’ve bragged to the media about killing Pedersen’s father, David “Red” Pedersen, and stepmother, Leslie “DeeDee” Pedersen, along with two other people: Cody Myers, a Lafayette teen, and Reginald Alan Clark, a Eureka, Calif., man. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.
Perez, 32, has little sympathy for her brother, though she understands his rage against their father.
“He was very abusive growing up to my brother and I,” Perez said. “But that doesn’t justify murder.”
Perez and her brother were born in Stayton 15 months apart and grew up in chaos. Their parents, who married and divorced each other twice, frequently separated. Perez said her father, who spent nearly a decade in active duty or the reserves of the Marines, easily flew into rages. Her mother, Linda Eilene Pedersen, who acknowledged in a court document having multiple personality disorder, locked herself in her bedroom.
Sometimes neighbors cared for the kids. Sometimes they were shuffled to their aunt’s home in Stayton. For a time, they lived with family in Missouri.
Between about 1985 and 1989, the family lived at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif., where their father was stationed. Perez and her brother were close. They fished for crawdads after school, rode bikes and swam in the warm Pacific. They also played two-person football, with their dad dressing them in Minnesota Vikings uniforms, complete with shoulder pads and helmets.
Her dad had no connection with Minnesota, she said. He just liked the Vikings.
Perez recalls few family outings aside from an occasional barbecue on the beach.
Her dad was a harsh disciplinarian. “He was a drill sergeant,” she said. “He acted like that at home, too.”
She remembered his anger when he couldn’t understand their homework because he had only a seventh-grade education. He didn’t tolerate a mess and ordered his son not to cry.
While Perez conformed to the rules, her brother fought back.
“He would fly off the handle,” she said. “He would yell, scream, punch things, throw things. He didn’t have very good control over himself.”
Her mother was often absent. She was taken to mental institutions several times, Perez said, at least once with her brother. At home, Perez said, her mom locked herself away for days.
In 1989, the parents separated for good. In the divorce, granted in 1993, neither parent sought custody of the kids, who were wards of the state living with their aunt in Stayton.
Red Pedersen moved to Skagit County in Washington and Linda Pedersen stayed in Salem, surviving on $422 in monthly Social Security disability payments.
At her aunt’s home, Perez thrived in a stable environment, surrounded by eight cousins. Her brother, who talked of becoming a Navy SEAL, resisted the rules.
At 13, Joey Pedersen enrolled in North Salem High School and moved in with his mom in Salem.
His sophomore picture in the 1994-95 yearbook shows the teenager wearing a broad grin and big glasses. But he was drawn to a bad crowd, according to a cousin, Donna Newman. “He was becoming uncontrollable for Linda.”
In June 1996, Pedersen was arrested on an accusation of third-degree robbery. He was placed on informal probation, agreeing to certain restrictions. In October, Pedersen completed his probation and the case was closed.
But that was just the start of a crime binge. Between November 1996 and January 1997, Pedersen robbed two coffee shops, a McDonald’s and a Plaid Pantry at gunpoint in Salem. In March 1997, he pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree robbery.
At 16, he was sentenced to five years and eight months under Measure 11.
According to a letter to the court signed by Rose Pedersen, self-identified as one of his mother’s 10 personalities, Joey Pedersen had made bad choices in the past year and moved in with friends. She blamed juvenile authorities for not being harsh enough after the June arrest, saying the teenager probably thought he got away with one more thing. She asked authorities to make sure he took his Zoloft, an antidepressant.
When Pedersen was incarcerated, he had no tattoos, according to the Department of Corrections. He wasn’t racist either, his sister said.
“He had a black girlfriend when he was 15,” she said.
His views would change.
In March 1997, he was housed at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn. Three months later he was moved to Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem. Although it’s not clear what prompted it, the transfer of a minor from a juvenile facility with individualized treatment and rehab programs to an adult prison is unusual, said Philip Cox, assistant director of community services for the Oregon Youth Authority.
“It really only occurs when the youth is a danger to other inmates — kids — or to staff,” he said.
A year after entering adult prison, Pedersen committed assault, the first of nearly 70 violations of prison rules that included everything from extortion and disobedience to contraband. In 1999, he was punished for racial, religious or sexual harassment, the first of several such violations. Then in February 2000, Pedersen sent a death threat to U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge in Idaho, who presided over the trial of Randy Weaver, a hero of white supremacists.
It’s not clear when Pedersen started identifying with their ideology, but in prison he had his body emblazoned with tattoos, including an image of Hitler on his abdomen, a swastika above his heart and SWP — supreme white power — inked on his neck.
Tattooing is not legal in prison, but it’s common. So are prison gangs, giving vulnerable inmates protection from rape and assault, said Randy Blazak, an expert on hate groups and an associate professor at Portland State University.
Blazak said white supremacist gangs, with their reductive view of the world as good and evil, often attract prisoners from abusive and dysfunctional backgrounds.
“It is very attractive to sociopathic individuals,” Blazak said. “They see themselves as heroes of the embattled white race.”
Take a teen, like Pedersen, lock him up in a harsh prison where daily life is a struggle and you’re likely to create a hateful, white supremacist, Blazak said.
“He’s a textbook case,” he said.
Pedersen spent much of his time in prison in solitary confinement, where he shaved 122 days off his sentence by staying out of trouble and earning a GED.
In 2007, he invited his father and stepmother to visit him in Colorado, one of several states where he was imprisoned. They had limited funds and his father feared flying, but they went anyway, said Lori Nemitz, DeeDee Pedersen’s daughter.
Once there, Pedersen refused to see them. “They were very disappointed,” Nemitz said.
After 14 years in prison, Pedersen was released this past May to federal and state post-prison supervision. In July, he visited his father in Washington state, staying overnight.
Nemitz said her stepfather was trying to reconnect with his son, encouraged by his wife’s close relationships with her daughters.
That same month, a federal probation officer petitioned the court, saying Pedersen had run out of Zoloft and asking that Pedersen’s probation include mental health treatment and psychotropic medications.
About Sept. 23, Pedersen arrived for a weekend visit in Everett, showing up with Grigsby.
Red Pedersen invited Nemitz and her sister over to meet his son. Joey Pedersen jumped off the couch as soon as they arrived and ran up to greet them.
“He was very polite,” said Sue Ellis, DeeDee Pedersen’s daughter.
The men watched a televised mixed martial arts match, a shared interest. Pedersen had just lost his third cage fight. The women, meanwhile, sat around the kitchen bar, chatting. Grigsby held back, refusing to join the conversation.
The sisters never saw their mother or stepfather alive after that day.
After failing to reach them for a few days, Nemitz went to their home. Their miniature Australian shepherd Frosty was cowering in the kitchen.
“She looked at me terrified,” Nemitz said.
She entered the bedroom and saw her mother’s body covered with a comforter. She knew immediately.
“The smell,” she said.
She called 9-1-1.
Police launched a manhunt that ended after two more deaths. The body of Cody Myers, 19, was found in a wooded area near Philomath on 4. The next day, Grigsby and Pedersen were arrested in Myers’ car north of Sacramento. On Oct. 7, officials found Red Pedersen’s body in Linn County.
While housed in Yuba County Jail in Marysville, Calif., Pedersen told the media he had killed Reginald Alan Clark, 53, of Eureka.
The suspects were extradited to Everett last week, where they pleaded not guilty to killing Red and DeeDee Pedersen. They told media they killed Myers to steal his car and that Clark was targeted as an African American.
Grigsby told a California newspaper that Red Pedersen was murdered because he was an abuser and that his stepmother supported him. Reginald Alan Clark “That’s not the man we knew,” Nemitz said. She said he treated her mom like a queen and that her family has zero tolerance for child abuse.
Holly Perez is attending her dad and stepmom’s celebration of life today. She said her brother is using their childhood as a flimsy excuse for murder.
“He’s saying he did it for me,” she said. “He’s too cowardly to say he did it for himself.”
Researcher Lynne Palombo contributed to this story.