"I'm not scared. I have a gun."

Brice Harper fatally shot the unarmed husband of the woman he was seeing. Montana law made sure he was never charged.



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"I see it now"

Since the night of Sept. 22, Harper has been difficult to track down. He has never spoken to a reporter and, because he was never charged with a crime, his testimony of what happened that night has been sealed from public view. What is known is that Harper was 24 when he met Heather at Copper Mountain Coffee. He was an employee of Franz Bakery, a company for which his father is the Spokane office's general manager. In photos, he appears to be thick-set, like a fullback, with short-cropped dust-colored hair. In Kalispell, he would be difficult to pick out of a line-up.

Heather met Harper the same way she met Danhe bought coffee from her. Heather would write him love notes on the back of receipts. Harper would call her after work and they would drive around for a few hours before Heather had to return home. "He had a lot going for him," she says. "He had a good job. He gave me a lot of attention."

When she met Harper, Heather disclosed the relationship to Dan. A mutual friend of the couple, who has requested to remain anonymous, said that Dan was upset by the relationship, but understood his role in pushing Heather away. Heather has maintained that she and Harper never had sex.

One day, driving through an open field west of Kalispell, Harper asked Heather if she wanted to "do something crazy." He pulled over to the side of the road and reached under the truck's seat. He held a pistol. Heather had never shot a gun, and as she wrapped her hand around the grip, she felt like a criminal. She remembers the exhilaration of the detonation. "It hurt my ears," she says.

After several weeks, Harper started to make Heather nervous. One day, she received a text message from Harper asking what she was doing. She responded that she was at a work meeting at a local restaurant. A few minutes later Harper appeared at the restaurant.

Then, on Aug. 19, Heather and Dan went to the raceway north of Kalispell. Heather was trying to distance herself from Harper, and things with her husband were showing signs of improvement. "Dan was really trying," she says. "I don't think I saw it then, but I see it now."

After the race, in the parking lot, Heather noticed a guy sitting in a pickup truck with the engine running. She knew that Harper had gotten a new truck, but wasn't sure what it looked like. She pointed him out to Dan.

Driving back to town, the pickup truck began tailgating Dan and Heather before accelerating past them and disappearing. Twenty minutes later, Dan and Heather were at Fatt Boys Bar & Grille drinking beer with friends. Heather noticed Harper sitting across the bar. She told Dan. They ignored him.

Around last call, Heather went outside for a cigarette. Harper followed her. She says she told him to leave her alone. Dan came outside and confronted Harper. She heard Harper say, "I just wanted to make sure she's all right."

Dan responded that Heather was his wife and he would take care of her. Heather remembers Dan saying, "Let's go," as if he wanted to fight. Harper responded, "I'll blow your fucking head off."

A bouncer told the men that there would be no fighting.

"Oh my God, that's Dan"

Empire Loop corrals a tract of flat land and cookie-cutter duplexes northwest of downtown Kalispell. The lawns are all tightly cropped, the pavement is smooth and the cross streets are named for icons of American money-making: Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller and, because there was still one more street to name, Trump.

On Sept. 22, Brice Harper was moving out of his duplex near the intersection of Empire and Vanderbilt. He was preparing to move to Idaho the next morning and spent the day loading furniture and boxes into a rented storage unit. Sometime before noon, he texted Heather to ask if she would help him clean after she got off work.

Around the same time, Heather texted Dan the sort of love notes they had exchanged in the early months of their relationship, but their rediscovered adoration quickly turned sour. Her Tahoe was making a strange sound and after agreeing to help him put the engine in the Camaro she asked Dan if he could fix her SUV. Dan said he needed to finish the work on his Camaro. A fight ensued. Dan texted: "Every day u have some reason 2 throw a fit n make it impossible 4 me 2 do what i need 2 get done. When this car is done i will help u with ur car."

Heather responded: "Im just so stressed and i have put so much money in the last week towards the camaro and i still haven't gotten anything i need done. Im out of money and im scared sorry..."

That afternoon, Heather brought their twin boys to Harper's house. The duplex was close to empty. "All the furniture was out of the house. There was some small stuff, pictures...", she says. She remembers seeing a gun on Harper's bedroom windowsill.

At some point, after Harper had ordered pizza from Domino's and Heather fed the twins, she checked her phone, which was hooked up to a wall charger. She was surprised to find the phone's power off. When she turned it on, Heather had received two text messages from Dan: "Its getn late. Ill c if jerry is home. I should have had the motor in by now." And: "Now its 8...Cant you ever do what u say u will without screwing wit me!"

Heather says she called Dan at 8:23. He told her he was driving around looking for her. He asked her if she was with Harper. She didn't answer. Dan hung up.

Heather worked at Copper Mountain Coffee, where Dan Fredenberg and Brice Harper were both regular customers . - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Heather worked at Copper Mountain Coffee, where Dan Fredenberg and Brice Harper were both regular customers .

Heather then asked Harper to drive around the block with her to diagnose the sound her Tahoe was making. They strapped the twins into their car seats and started down the street. Heather noticed headlights in the rearview mirror. She said, "Oh my God, that's Dan." Dan had never been to Harper's house, and she didn't understand how he had found them.

She remembers Harper responded, "I'm not scared. I have a gun."

Heather pulled up to the curb in front of Harper's house. His garage door was open and Heather says she told him to go inside, close the garage and lock the door. She drove away, but only made it a few hundred yards when she saw Dan stop in front of Harper's house. She immediately turned around. By the time she stopped in front of the driveway, Dan was in the garage pointing a finger at Harper, who was standing in the elevated threshold to the laundry room. Heather says that's when Harper pointed the gun at Dan and shot him in the stomach.

At about 8:35 p.m., Laura Bachman, a certified nursing assistant, and her sister-in-law, Monica Schultz,were smoking cigarettes outside their house when they heard the gun shot. They both recall a five-second pause followed by two more shots. They heard Heather's screaming and ran toward the garage, its light casting a glow into the twilight. "There was a man laying on the ground face down, head turned to the right with one arm above his head. And there was another man standing in the doorway just staring at him," Bachman remembers.

She found some cleaning rags and began applying pressure to what would end up being the exit wound of the first and ultimately fatal shot. Later, it would be clear that Harper's first shot hit Dan in the stomach, the second in the chest and the third grazed his face. Bachman says Dan was unresponsive and blood was pooling on the floor of the garage.

When the two women had arrived, Bachman says Harper just said, "He was coming at me, he was coming at me." Then Harper went back into the house before reappearing in the threshold. He didn't have a gun in his hand. Bachman asked, "Who shot him?"

"I did," Harper responded. "He deserved it."

"Essential to a free society"

Today, most states have some version of Castle Doctrine legislation, and those that do not, like Vermont, uphold a citizen's right to self-defense through case law. There are two basic degrees of Castle Doctrine law; one that gives the homeowner the right to use justifiable force in defense of his home, and another that extends that right to use force in defense of one's self, so long as that person is in a public place or otherwise lawfully located. (These laws are often referred to as "Stand Your Ground" or "Make My Day" laws.) Montana, along with 23 other states, falls into the latter category.

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