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Monday, December 3, 2012

Dan Fredenberg Shot To Death in Brice Harper's Garage: Murder or Justified Killing?

     In 2010, in Kalispell, Montana, a town of 20,000 in the northwest corner of the state, 38-year-old Dan Fredenberg, a divorced father of two, met and started dating a 20-year-old cocktail waitress named Heather King. After Heather became pregnant with twins, she and Dan got married. The marriage didn't work out. He drank too much, they had financial problems, and he was a bit of a lady's man. The couple fought, and talked frequently of divorce.

     In June 2012, Heather informed her husband that she was having a friendly but nonsexual relationship with Brice Harper, a 24-year-old resident of Kalispell. Dan Fredenberg did not take the news very well and was understandably jealous. (He probably didn't believe the nonsexual part.) That month the two men were involved in a nonphysical confrontation at Fatt Boy's Bar & Grille in Kalispell.

     On September 22, 2012, Brice Harper called Heather Fredenberg with a request. He was moving out of town the next day and wondered if she could come to his duplex and help him clean house. Heather put her twin sons into her car and made the five minute trip to Harper's dwelling. That day, while at Harper's place, Heather and her husband exchanged angry text messages. When they spoke on the phone, Dan asked his wife if she was with Harper. She didn't answer his question so he swore at her and hung up.

     At eight-thirty that night, Heather, about to leave Harper's house, put the twins into her car. Before going home, she asked Harper to ride around the block with her. Perhaps he could determine what was making the clunking noise coming from under the hood of her car. Harper climbed into the vehicle. They hadn't traveled very far when Heather realized they were being followed by her husband. When she pulled back into Harper's driveway to drop him off, Heather suggested that he go directly into his house and lock the doors. Harper replied that he was not afraid of her husband. He also told her he owned a gun. Anticipating trouble, Heather backed out of the driveway, but did not pull away from Harper's house.

     Dan Fredenberg, who was not armed, climbed out of his car, walked up Harper's driveway and into his garage through the open door. Harper came out of his house and into his garage carrying a handgun. From a distance of a few feet, he shot Fredenberg three times.

     As Dan Fredenburg bled on the floor of Brice Harper's garage, Heather, screaming at the top of her lungs, ran to him. "Call 911," he said. Pronounced dead a short time later at the Kalispell Regional Medical Center, these had been his last words.

     Ed Corrigan, the Flathead County attorney, had to determine if under Montana's so-called "castle doctrine" (because a man's home is his "castle," he does not have to retreat from using deadly force against an intruder), Brice Harper had committed murder. Did this killer have the legal right to stand his ground against an unarmed intruder in his garage?

     In most of the twenty states that justify the killing of a home invader by the dwelling's legal occupant, the use of deadly force is an affirmative defense to criminal homicide. This means that the use of lethal force under these circumstances is presumed unjustified, placing the burden of proving this defense on the accused. (The defendant must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence, a less rigorous evidentiary standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt needed to rebut the presumption of innocence.)

     In Montana, the state legislature, in 2009, modified this self-defense doctrine by shifting the burden of proof to the prosecution. In other words, the state has to prove that the homicide defendant's actions were outside the castle doctrine. On October 9, 2012, the county attorney, in a 4-page letter to the Kalispell Police Department (the dead man's father was a retired police officer), announced his decision not to prosecute Brice Harper for criminal homicide. Prosecutor Ed Corrigan wrote that under Montana's revised statute, "you [referring to the defendant] didn't have to claim that you were afraid for your life. You just have to claim that he [the victim] was in the house illegally. [An attached garage is considered part of a dwelling.] If you think someone's going to punch you in the nose or engage in a fistfight, that's sufficient grounds to engage in lethal force."

     It is not, in my view, good jurisprudence to write a law that makes the use of deadly force, under certain circumstances, legal. There is a danger that this type of law will actually encourage violence. The better approach is to allow the use of deadly force, under clearly defined circumstances, as a homicide defense, a defense the accused has the burden of proving.

     In another state, Brice Harper would probably have been prosecuted for voluntary manslaughter on the grounds he had used excessive force against an unarmed man. In his defense, he could have argued that he felt that his life was in danger, and because the confrontation took place in his house, he didn't have to retreat. In my view, Harper may have had a difficult time convincing a jury that his life was in danger. Moreover, jurors may not have liked the fact Harper had been fooling around with the dead man's wife.
   

       

1 comment:

  1. Its quite funny how you seem to know a lot about this crime when I see where you mixed things up perhaps just to get alot more attention to this story but I truly feel it was none of your business to even write this article without even talking to Mrs. Fredenberg about it before you wrote this. Also fyi she told the truth about everything it was the county attorney and the kpd that did a very shotty investigation. Let me just inform you the system in kalispell, mt is extremely corrupt Dan and Heathers fathers were both police officers in kalispell and never once did they get along with the county attorney Ed Corrigan because the guy is a prick! Brice Harper's family paid Ed Corrigan to be where he is today FREE!! The man is so corrupt its really sad! He has done this with other cases and then doesn't want to look bad so he pushes it off onto another person as you see in this case Heather has been the one slandered even more than the murderer himself! This is exactly what Ed Corrigan wanted so he could have his name clear. So if you want to write a story write all of the truth not just bits and pieces of the truth. This is exactly why Mrs. Fredenberg quit talking to all reporters writers etc.

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