First reported 6/23/2009 1:29 p.m.

Confessed wife-killer James F. Pender will spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison after Judge Thomas Tucker sentenced him last Tuesday to natural life in prison without chance of parole.

Pender’s sentencing followed an aggravation and mitigation hearing that showed Pender to be, by every account, a deeply disturbed, unpleasant and anti-social man with one or more clinically diagnosed personality disorders. In the end, that psychiatric history may have saved his life.

Dr. Christopher Cooper, chief of the psychology department for Cook County Forensic Clinical Services, testified that Pender, 57, had serious personality disorders, but was neither psychotic nor unable to interact with his environment. He was, rather, arrogant, anti-social and pathologically narcissistic, a diagnosis shared by several other clinicians.

Cooper said Pender “consistently violates the rights of others,” and showed “a lack of remorse or empathy for others.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jo Murtaugh demanded the death penalty. Graphically describing both Therese Pender’s injuries and the scene that River Forest police found at Lake Street and Park Avenue, the night of March 16, 2005, Murtaugh told the judge, “Every blow he gave Therese Pender is aggravation. Every swing of the hammer was aggravation. He will ask the court for mercy when he showed none.”

But mercy is exactly what defense attorney Preston Jones Jr. sought – not for James Pender but for his 80-year-old mother, who sat on a front-row bench.

“Maybe he doesn’t deserve it, but we’re still asking for Fran Pender,” Jones said.

Jones called Therese Pender’s murder a “horrible, horrific, cowardly act,” and his client “a 57-year-old pathetic man.”

Pender was not, however, “the worst of the worst,” for which Jones said the death penalty was reserved.

“We’re not looking for sympathy, just fairness,” he told Tucker. Pender’s crime was the result of a mental illness, he said. “It means he can’t be with decent people. It doesn’t mean we kill him.”

After the trial, Jones said he was relieved.

Prosecutor David Sabatini said afterward that he and his team were satisfied with the life sentence.

“We felt the death penalty would be justified,” Sabatini said, but added that he and his colleagues understood the judge’s reasoning. “It’s a guarantee that he will serve the remainder of his life in jail.”

Sabatini scoffed at defense contentions that Pender had pleaded guilty for any reason other than pure self-interest.

“His reason for pleading was to save himself,” Sabatini said. “The evidence was absolutely so overwhelming, he had nowhere to go at trial.”

Lisa Janopoulos, a sister who attended most every hearing the past four years, was smiling. She said she was “relieved.”

Bob Satterthwaite, Therese Pender’s brother-in-law, dismissed the defense contention of a psychiatric condition. “It was premeditated. He planned it all,” Satterthwaite said.

Therese Pender’s mother, Mary McCullars, echoed Sabatini’s comments, saying, “He took responsibility only because he didn’t want the death penalty.”

Therese Pender’s family members and friends were planning to spend time together, drink a beer or two and talk about Therese.

In the future, several said, they would continue to work for other victims of domestic abuse and violence.

“We have to focus on victims’ rights,” McCullars said.

“We need to bring awareness on the subject,” said Samantha Satterthwaite, Therese Pender’s niece. “Make sure people know there’s a place to go.”

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