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As his murder trial opened this morning, James F. Pender took a blind plea to two counts of first-degree murder – the second of which leaves him facing the death penalty.

Pender, 57, formerly of Harwood Heights, was charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder, aggravated stalking and robbery in the March 2005 death of his wife, Therese Pender, in River Forest.

A blind plea is one without an agreement on a sentence. Judge Thomas Tucker told Pender that he faces 20 years to death.

It was stipulated in open court that Pender was in River Forest on March 16, 2005, and that in seeing his wife, who was walking near Park and Lake, he “tapped her on the head with a hammer” and then grabbed her by the arm.

Therese Pender, a 1981 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, was staying with friends in River Forest for her safety after having gotten a court order of protection against her husband, from whom she had filed for divorce.

Because that order of protection was in effect when Therese Pender was killed, James Pender can face the death penalty.

Pender is due back at the Cook County Courthouse in Maywood tomorrow morning for a hearing related to technical issues about the death penalty.

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