Page 4 of 4
Corrigan's press release makes no mention of Heather's second witness statement, which he says he received "a week later," after Heather was already the subject of "considerable public scrutiny." He makes no mention of the other witnesses that night that one of them had heard Brice Harper say that Dan "deserved it." Nor does it mention that Harper was moving the next day and that his house was mostly empty save for a Smith and Wesson M&P .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol. Or that Dan was shot first in the stomach, and then after a pause, in the chest and the face.
After the shooting, Heather filed a temporary order of protection against Harper. On Oct. 24, District Judge David M. Ortley heard Heather's case to make the order permanent. Harper was represented by Missoula-based attorney Quentin Rhoades. Heather represented herself.
When Heather talks about what happened she progresses through an emotional spectrum: tears turn to anger, anger to remorse, remorse becomes self-forgiveness, and forgiveness becomes momentary clarity, which again, returns her to tears. It makes conversations with her complicated, sometimes frustrating, and easier to disregard than dissect a quality that does not look good under courtroom lights, and may explain why her full statements have not been taken into consideration. At the October hearing, when Rhoades called Officer Overman to the witness stand, the issue of Heather's credibility simmered as a subtext.
Rhoades: "Did you report in that police report [Heather] mentioning Brice Harper threatening Dan Freedenberg (sic) with a firearm?"
Overman: "I—I believe the only conversation I recall is just prior to Brice entering his residence—he mentioned having a firearm."
Rhoades: "Okay. So that was on the 22nd when Brice Harper had a firearm."
Rhoades: "She talked about that."
Rhoades: "Has Mrs. Fredenberg reported to you any subsequent threats made by Brice Harper to her or her family?"
Overman: "We did speak the next night [September 23] in the lobby of the Kalispell Police Department and at that point she did share some concerns with me."
Rhoades: "And did you report—make a police report of that—of that concern?"
Overman: She didn't specficially outline any particular threats...so I did not."
Rhoades: "And on the 23rd, did she tell you about any threats Brice Harper had made toward Dan Fredenberg?"
Overman: "I—I don't have a specific recollection of that conversation."
Rhoades: "Would that have been important with respect to your investigation?"
Throughout the hearing, Heather was predictably overmatched by Harper's legal team. She called no witnesses and her cross-examination of Overman was circular and brief. At times, she would respond to questions inaudibly.
In the end, Judge Ortley declined to continue the order of protection. Harper never took the stand.
"God, judge and jury"
Ron Fredenberg lives in a small ranch-style house not far from the Flathead County Courthouse. He is tall with a graying beard and a handshake that feels consciously gentle. He talks about Dan affectionately and realistically, speaking unequivocally of Dan's love for his children and his less-than-stellar work ethic.
After the shooting, Ron asked Heather if she would submit to a polygraph test. He asked her questions about her relationship with Harper, about the night Dan died—obvious questions "that everyone was asking." He says she passed the test.
According to Ron, there are members of the Fredenberg family who have "convicted Heather 20 times over." "Ninety-five percent of the people I talk to think it was her almost as much as it was Brice," he says. "The way I see it, Dan loved her, he may have been fed up with her ... but that doesn't mean he didn't love her."
Today, Fredenberg's grief is complicated not by Harper's freedom, but by a decision left to one man, Ed Corrigan, that may have been better left to the proceedings of a trial. "The [Castle Doctrine] law isn't as bad as Corrigan is making it out to be," he says, "[but] Ed is trying to be God, the judge and the jury."
The facts are not in question. Harper killed Dan. But self-defense law can be more alchemy than physics, the precedents hiding in a gray margin. In an interview with the Independent, Corrigan seemed aware of the complications. In typical deliberate homicide cases, he said, it's his job to prove that an individual knowingly pulled the trigger. But when self-defense comes into play, he needs to prove that the individual's reason for pulling the trigger was not justified. "I'm not saying [Harper] was morally justified," he said, "... but it was in a legal sense."
"My heart is breaking"
On April 3, 2011, Heather gave birth to twins. Dan was thrilled to add a pair of boys to his family, and he suggested names inspired by the world he new best: Bentley, for the luxury car manufacturer, and Paxton, for Paxton superchargers.
Heather doesn't live in Kalispell anymore. Today, she and the twins share a duplex with Heather's mother in a different Montana town. She plans to go back to school, maybe to become a dentist. The twins are growing quickly—their eyes tiny suggestions of their late father. They've mastered walking. Now they are practicing the forward-falling leg churning that eventually becomes running.
Dan's cousins have set up a Facebook page to raise awareness of what they perceive as the injustice that has befallen their family. The page's wall is littered with commentary railing against Corrigan, against the Castle Doctrine, against Harper. There is also a Change.org petition called "Danny Fredenberg: Bring charges against the man who murdered him." The petition is bannered with a photo of Dan sitting in the driver's seat of a car, smiling coyly.
On Nov. 19, Dan's step-mother, Liz, wrote a letter. Part catharsis, part exposition, the handwritten note was given to the Independent by Liz's husband, Ron Fredenberg. It opens:
"Sitting here looking at my son's stuff. Not much here. Few pictures, lots of cards, T-shirt, pants and his slip-ons. Here is a box with his name on it. You open it and there are ashes [and] bones crushed and a number. You don't know how hard this is. My heart is breaking.
"In my purse I pack his cell phone and his picture ID card...He didn't deserve to die."
After his death, Dan's cellphone was released to Ron and Liz, not Heather. In the days following the shooting, as the dust settled, Liz found a text message in Dan's "Sent" folder.
It is unclear where Dan was when he sent his final text message to Heather. It's possible he had already found her black Tahoe. Maybe he could already see his wife in the car in front of his, make out her shape next to the man who a few minutes later would kill him. Or maybe their silhouettes were lost in the wash and glare of his own high-beams. But like so much of this story, the truth is opaque—clouded in the retellings of the people who were there.
Minutes before he was shot, Dan wrote to Heather, "...U wonder why im so fd up? I told u I had a feeling in my gut and that explains a lot. U can move away with ur number one."
Heather says she never received the message.