Prosecution paints Mendenhall’s desperation in murder-for-hire trial

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 2:46am

On the second day of his murder-for-hire trial, a subdued Bruce Mendenhall listened quietly to testimony from the two detectives he allegedly attempted to have killed.

Prosecutors claim the Illinois truck driver’s attempt to arrange the murders was the final step in a series of unsuccessful moves to skirt charges in the death of an Ashland City woman found dumped at a north Nashville truck stop in 2007. 

A video played for the jury showed Mendenhall’s first interview with Metro police detectives Pat Postiglione and Lee Freeman and revealed the suspected serial killer attempting to pass the buck for the murder to a pair of fellow truckers.

When that failed and he was charged with murder, prosecutors said he attempted to coerce an alibi from friends and family.

“Unless I get alibis from somewhere else, I’m dead,” Mendenhall said in a conversation with his now deceased wife, Linda, which Freeman played for the jury Tuesday.

“The only way to beat this system down here is with alibis,” he told his wife in another conversation. She responded by asking whether he knew he was being recorded. Mendenhall replied yes, but that “the only thing they record is if you talk about trying to get out or threatening somebody. I ain’t threatening nobody and I ain’t trying to get out, so there goes that.”

Throughout the calls played for the jury, Freeman said Mendenhall showed an increasing hostility toward Postiglione, appearing to blame the detective for setting him up to solve a case.

“He just wanted to clear his desk before he retires and I was his scapegoat,” Mendenhall said in one of the conversations. “Postiglione, he’s not going to let it die … the detective, he keeps it in the news,” he said in another.

It’s that hostility that may have led fellow cellblock 5A inmates, Roy Lucas McLaughlin and Michael Ray Jenkins, to prey on Mendenhall for their own gain.

As the two main witnesses for the prosecution, public defender Dawn Deaner indicated that chipping away at their credibility may be the key to Mendenhall’s defense.

Rather than the pair of cooperative jailhouse informants who prosecutors say turned on Mendenhall after the desperate defendant asked them for help, Deaner painted McLaughlin and Jenkins as opportunistic career criminals who manipulated Mendenhall for their own gain.

Court records show McLaughlin and Jenkins have extensive criminal records in Davidson County — their individual rap sheets stretch far before their encounters with Mendenhall in the spring of 2008.

Jenkins’ motivation for ratting out Mendenhall was self-serving, Deaner told the jury.

Jenkins, who met Mendenhall while facing aggravated burglary, theft and vandalism charges, was released to the Community Corrections program. But after spending only four days out of jail, he was rearrested on new burglary and vandalism charges.

Just over a week after he was rearrested Jenkins approached authorities claiming he had been solicited to help with a murder.

“It’s not a case about solicitation, it’s not a case about Bruce Mendenhall,” Deaner said. “It’s a case about two men who saw Bruce Mendenhall as their ticket out of jail.”

Deaner painted McLaughlin as a small-time offender who boasted and bragged to raise his jailhouse credibility. At times he claimed to be an undercover agent, a member of a task force and a killer-for-hire.

“Is Bruce Mendenhall asking, is he demanding, is he hiring Roy McLaughlin to kill? Or is he just going along with what a man that he believes likes to kill people said? That’s the question you have to ask yourself,” she told the jury.

Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. today and is expected to last at least two more days.