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In wake of Kalispell shooting, NBC Montana looks at self-defense laws

By Scott Zoltan, KECI Reporter, szoltan@keci.com
Published On: Oct 04 2012 06:48:59 PM MDT
Updated On: Oct 05 2012 10:11:42 AM MDT
KALISPELL, Mont. -

40-year old Daniel Fredenberg was shot and killed on September 22 in a Northwest Kalispell neighborhood. Police detained a 24-year old man for questioning and later released him.

Daniel Fredenberg’s father says County Attorney Corrigan pointed out three laws when he told him why the man who shot and killed his son won’t face charges. One is Montana’s version of the “Castle Doctrine,” part of House Bill 228, passed in 2009.

NBC Montana spoke with two lawmakers who voted on the bill. Both commented on the bill but not the specifics of the Kalispell case.

“Your home is your castle. I mean, that comes from the old days, the old times when it was required in a castle to have the necessary armament to protect that castle,” said State Representative Duane Ankney, who co-sponsored the bill.

The bill didn’t pass without controversy.

“It threatened to turn a bar fight into a gunfight,” said State Representative Dick Barrett.

“I should have that right to protect myself, or my loved ones, from someone that’s going to do me harm,” said Ankney.

Corrigan says his decision in the Fredenberg case will be based partly on the Castle Doctrine. In House Bill 228, it says a person can use deadly force if they think it’s necessary to prevent an assault in an occupied structure. But there’s a twist: The person doesn’t exactly have to storm your castle.

The bill deleted the following words from existing code describing the way in which a person must enter a home before having deadly force used on them: “in violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner.”  That could be crucial in the Fredenberg case, as Fredenberg’s family says he walked through an open garage door.

“I thought the bill encouraged violent responses or discouraged or at least did not promote people seeking, sort of, less violent and less forceful ways of resolving [conflicts].”

The bill also changed Montana in another way. Now, if someone claims self-defense, prosecutors have to prove them wrong. That can be tough, especially if there aren’t witnesses.

Corrigan is expected to also base his decision in the Kalispell case on a “Stand your Ground” law. Simply put, people don’t have a duty to retreat from a threat or call police before using force.

“Be a good citizen and this law will never come into effect,” said Ankney.

Fredenberg’s family says he was unarmed. So far, Corrigan hasn’t said whether the man who killed him felt threatened. So, while Montana code 45-3-103 is just a bunch of numbers to some people, to Ron Fredenberg, it is one of the reasons the man who killed his son will likely continue walking free.

NBC Montana spoke with Ed Corrigan about the laws on Thursday. He says with the passage of the Castle Doctrine in Montana, the homeowner doesn’t need to fear the use of deadly force against them or another person in his house in order to use potentially deadly force. All they needs to fear is that they or some other person will be assaulted.

When speaking about the Stand Your Ground statute, he said a homeowner does not have to retreat or call the police before they resort to the use of force or lethal force against a person in their house unlawfully.

Corrigan added that he is still working on his formal statement, which is expected to be ready by early next week.

The text of House Bill 228 is available here.