PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — David “Joey” Pedersen spent nearly half his life in prison, building a lengthy rap sheet that includes a conviction for repeatedly hitting a prison guard in the face with a hot iron. He also threatened to kill a federal judge and committed a litany of other crimes including robbery and assault.
But his crimes were never deemed serious enough to warrant a sentence longer than a few years, and Pedersen walked out of prison on May 24 a free man. He was actually let out three months early for good behavior, despite the fact that he was in prison in the first place for attacking a guard.
And his bad behavior while behind bars — 68 incidents in 14 years — landed him in solitary confinement for most of his stay. While being locked down and kept away from other prisoners, he accrued time for early release
The quirks in the justice system that let Pedersen get out when he did allowed the 31-year-old white supremacist to begin a new life on the outside, taking up cage-fighting and meeting a female companion who had done time herself. Prosecutors said they soon began killing people, starting with Pedersen’s father and stepmother. They then killed an Oregon teenager, stole his car and killed a fourth person in California before being caught, prosecutors said.
Pedersen was unrepentant when questioned about the assault on the prison guard.
“I would have killed him if that other guy hadn’t stopped me,” Pedersen told an investigator looking into the 2001 assault in documents obtained by The Associated Press. “I’m just not putting up with their bull—- anymore. I ain’t got nothing else to say to you.”
At the time of the assault, he had been in prison for one day. Prosecutors sought to bring attempted aggravated murder charges against Pedersen, but a grand jury decided the incident merited a first-degree assault charge. It was later dropped to second-degree assault.
Pedersen and Grigsby have admitted in separate interviews to a California newspaper that they committed the crimes. Pedersen said he did it because he said his father molested his sister. Grigsby, also a white supremacist, said she was trying to preserve the white race.
“I’m hoping the sacrifice we have made will open some people’s eyes and they will wake up and hear the call. It’s not as hard as they think,” Grigsby told the Appeal-Democrat newspaper. “This is what I was born to do.”
With an image of Adolph Hitler on his stomach and the tattoo of a swastika just above his heart, Pedersen’s long rap sheet includes 68 offenses in 14 years of incarceration.
But for most of his prison sentence, he was segregated from the prison population. In the last 20 months of his latest sentence, it was an opportunity to accumulate “earned time” to the tune of one day off his sentence for every five days in prison.
The 122 days taken off his sentence changed his release date to May 24. His scheduled date of release without earned time credits would have been Sept. 23. Three days later, on Sept. 26, authorities believe he and Grigsby killed Pedersen’s father and stepmother.
Pedersen took up cage fighting after his release in May. Sometime after, he met Grigsby through a mutual friend.
Even though Grigsby had a husband and a 2-year-old, she started hanging around Pedersen at cage matches, jogging with him in the mornings and eventually weaning herself from a drug habit into which she had relapsed after being clean for nearly a year.
Grigsby and Pedersen had much in common. Grigsby had served time in prison as well. She gave birth to her son there. She showed the same white-supremacy tendencies as Pedersen, posting on her Facebook page: “every Jewish lie and every Jewish slander is a scar of honor on the chest of a warrior.”
Alone, Grigsby and Pedersen had managed to isolate their families, accept white supremacy as a guiding ideology and commit offenses that landed them behind bars. Together, authorities suspect, their union proved deadly.
Despite the neo-Nazi tattoos covering Pedersen’s body and his 14 years in prison, people who know him say he was not an outwardly aggressive person. After getting tapped out in a September cage fight — his first of three losses — Pedersen shook the hand of his opponent and told him “good job.”
Scott Baker, Pedersen’s opponent in an Aug. 27 cage match, said he spoke to him after the bout, in which he forced Pedersen to tap out in less than one minute by getting him in a choke hold.
“I tried to give him a comfort, told him you’re gonna lose sometimes but you can’t give up,” Baker said. “It was weird. Knowing how it is now, I wish I would have choked him out longer.”
Pedersen also let his tattoos speak for him. The most prominent are the blue initials “SWP” that sprout from his neck, spreading higher than any shirt collar could cover. They stand for “Supreme White Power.”
Sean Baker, Scott’s Baker’s brother, said the pair had a “perfectly normal” talk with Pedersen after the bout.
“Whenever you see anybody that’s all tatted up, it’s a little intimidating,” Sean Baker said. “We were intimidated at first. Then we ended up talking to him afterward and he seemed like the nicest guy.”
The reasons for Pedersen’s incarceration include fairly unspectacular offenses — robbery and second-degree assault. A smiling, bespectacled 14-year-old freshman at North Salem High School in 1994 emerged two years later with a robbery conviction that landed him first in juvenile detention, then in an adult prison at the age of 16 in March 1997.
Three months later, he committed his first infraction, an assault that landed him in the prison’s “Intensive Management Unit,” where he would spend the next six months isolated from other inmates for 23 hours each day.
It’s unclear whether the initial assault was race related, but during Pedersen’s two long stints in prison, he certainly rang up incidents related to race and religion. Five times in his first three years in prison, he was disciplined for harassment based on another inmate or guard’s race, religion or sexual orientation. He was also disciplined for assault six times in the same period.
The Associated Press filed information requests seeking the details of the assaults and harassment incidents, which are public record. The Oregon Department of Corrections told the AP it needed time to redact the files of sensitive information, a process that took more than six business days.
Pedersen would go on to spend more than four calendar years, a total of 1,555 days straight, segregated from his fellow inmates between October 1998 and January 2003, emerging only to attend court.
His second sentence began soon after, four years of it spent at a federal prison in Colorado and another three-plus years in Oregon. Most of that was spent segregated from other inmates, and in the last 20 months of his sentence, he began to earn time off of it.
Oregon’s formula is to remove one day from a sentence for every five days spent in prison. Pedersen drew no infractions during that period, stripping the equivalent of about four months from his original release date.
Pedersen’s litany of offenses should have been a reason to keep him in prison longer than his original sentence called for, said Harriet Salarno, chair of the California-based Crime Victims United, which presses the Legislature for stiffer sentences.
“There should be some enhancements that if you don’t behave, you stay longer,” Salarno said. “If they can’t conform in prison, they certainly can’t conform in the outside world.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)