Criminal Justice

Montana's Castle Doctrine Gets New Scrutiny After Husband Is Shot by Wife's Romantic Friend

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Heather Fredenberg’s extramarital relationship with Brice Harper ended in September with a fatal shooting.

Harper shot and killed Heather’s husband, Dan Fredenberg, when the angry spouse entered Harper’s garage in Kalispell, Mont., the New York Times reports.

“As he walked through Mr. Harper’s open garage door, Mr. Fredenberg was doing more than stepping uninvited onto someone else’s property,” the Times says. “He was unwittingly walking onto a legal landscape reshaped by laws that have given homeowners new leeway to use force inside their own homes.”

Prosecutors declined to press charges, saying Harper was protected by Montana’s castle doctrine law. Harper believed he was about to be assaulted, and his use of force was justified under the law even though Fredenberg was not armed, County Attorney Ed Corrigan concluded in a letter (PDF) outlining his reasoning.

Montana adopted the castle doctrine law in 2009. Previously homeowners could use deadly force to protect themselves only if someone entered their home in a “violent, riotous or tumultuous manner,” the story says. The new law gives more leeway to homeowners, allowing them to use lethal force if they reasonably believe they are about to be assaulted.

“You don’t have to claim that you were afraid for your life,” Corrigan told the Times. “You just have to claim that he was in the house illegally. If you think someone’s going to punch you in the nose or engage you in a fistfight, that’s sufficient grounds to engage in lethal force.”

Heather Fredenberg, who has said her affair with Harper was emotional rather than sexual, disagrees with Corrigan’s decision. “There is no justice,” she told the Times.

Additional coverage:

Independent Record: “Kalispell woman gets restraining order against lover who killed husband”

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