Marked for death, survivor of savage attack continues to ask "why?"
Preliminary Hearing | May 17, 2011
MONICA GILL: The night before the preliminary hearing, Marti was very nervous about seeing Brian Pennington. ... She was also very nervous about what she was going to say, what the attorneys, what questions they were going to ask.
VANESSA RIEBLI: The pressure was tremendous, because in our opinion, Brian was and is a very dangerous individual. And if we failed at the preliminary hearing, he would be released. He would be free.
I was very concerned about Marty's physical health. When I first met her, she was struggling just to walk and sit down in a chair. And one of my concerns was, even as aggressive of a prosecution that we were gonna have, I didn't want to cause her more emotional harm or physical harm. The other concern was her memory.
We knew that if she could identify Mr. Pennington as her attacker in the courtroom, that we could get a conviction. The problem was, with all of the injuries to her, we didn't know if she would be able to do that.
SHIRLEY ROTH: We were in the courtroom. And they brought Brian in. And they seated him to the far right of our family. ... It was just very emotional and unbelievable. ... It just made you want to cry. ... It was very hard to see him. ... Brian Pennington had no one on his side in the courtroom. Not even his mother came.
CAMI GILL: He always stared straight at the wall and he never looked around until ... Marti walked in the door. The only time he moved his head from straight forward was when she walked in the room and I saw his eyes go like this. Almost like she saw a ghost. I will always remember that. ... I could see it and feel it that he couldn't believe she was walking down that aisle, gonna go up and speak.
VANESSA RIEBLI: When Marti first walked into the courtroom, she was very slow. She was a little bit hunched over. And I was concerned if she was gonna be able to make it through this.
I've always told her just to focus on me. "You and I are gonna have a conversation, block everybody else out. "
It's gonna be you and me. We can do this.
MARTI HILL: I remember while I was speaking, that I could out of the corner of my eyes, kind of see him glancing at me.
It was still hard to process. Because I'm seeing this person that had come to work for me and I thought he was fine.
VANESSA RIEBLI: He showed no emotion . ... I felt that he was very detached from the situation. And it didn't bother him that he had almost killed a woman. ... The defendants that detach and so no emotion are the ones that frighten us the most.
MARTI HILL: It's still too hard to understand someone that you felt like you knew was capable of something like that.
VANESSA RIEBLI: I held my breath until she identified Brian as the person that attacked her, because ... I was very concerned with the traumatic brain injury, with everything she'd been through, if she was gonna be able to do that. And she did it.
MARTI HILL: I felt that it was important that I got up there and could do what they needed me to do.
VANESSA RIEBLI: I smiled at her. ... I wanted her to know she did a great job.
One of the other keys to the case was ... Jessica Pennington.
I thought that she would be a very hostile witness and would testify on his behalf, say, he was home that entire timeframe. We were able// to get her alone with the detectives and tell her how important it was to tell the truth.
I think the key factor with Jessica was learning how severely beaten Marti was and how close Marti came to dying. And I think Jessica, the human side of her understood that and realized it was more important to tell the truth than to protect Brian.
And Jessica Pennington broke down. And at that time, admitted to us that she had lied and that, in fact, her husband, Mr. Pennington, was not at home with her during the time of the attack.
DET. JASON WAKEFIELD: I also learned from Jessica that Brian had attacked her on numerous occasions, assaulted and threatened her.
VANESSA RIEBLI: In the end, Jessica became one of our best witnesses against Brian. ... At the end of the preliminary hearing, the judge ruled that there was enough evidence to take the case to trial.
It didn't appear that Brian had a lot of fight left when it came to the case. And it was made clear to us through this defense that he wanted to work out a deal. The issue with the deal was, how long would he serve in the Kansas State prison system?
We could go through the jury trial and get 38 years or we could work out a plea and get less than that.
A key factor in the evaluation was Marti. We knew that she still had physical issues, mental issues. And I believe that Marti wanted to work out a deal.
MARTI HILL: There was a day when she called me and said, "It's hard enough for 12 people to decide where to go to lunch, let alone decide how to convict someone."
VANESSA RIEBLI: It took several months, but we finally agreed on 28-and-a-half years. ... Because that was going to end it for Marti. She wouldn't have to testify. And also, I thought it was important to her children for have closure on this too.
CAMI GILL: The sentencing, we expected it to be brief and short and to the point and for him to be convicted and sentenced.
VANESSA RIEBLI: I walked into the sentencing hearing, I looked at Brian Pennington, I looked at the defense counsel and I knew something was wrong.
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