Sheridan murders trial: Fredres admits killing former in-laws in taped statement

Closing arguments set Friday

Donald Fredres said he merely wanted to visit his children and meant no harm to his former in-laws, whom he visited hoping they’d direct him to his ex-wife.

“Truthfully, I just wanted to say ‘hi’ to my kids,” the 38-year-old Sandwich man said during about a 75-minute police interview played Thursday for jurors. “I didn’t think anything was going to happen.”

But dark details emerged as La Salle County sheriff’s deputies pressed him on what happened March 16, 2021, inside the Sheridan home of Brenda and Gregory Barnes Sr.

Fredres said he asked Brenda Barnes where to find his ex-wife but Brenda “gave me nothing but attitude.” The situation quickly devolved and he admitted pulling a gun to get the information he wanted. They wouldn’t budge.

“I shot Greg once and shot Brenda twice,” Fredres told police.

It is likely to be the only time the jury hears Fredres’ voice. Prosecutors rested their case after the videotaped statement and then the defense rested, too. With the jury out of earshot, Fredres told Chief Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. he would not take the stand.

His hope now is jurors will accept his meant-no-harm claim in hopes of avoiding automatic natural life for a double murder.

Fredres also is charged with attempted murder for allegedly firing into the door of his ex-wife, injuring but not killing Jenell Johnson. In the statement he denied trying to kill her – “I definitely wasn’t thinking clearly” – but did admit firing into the door.

After the interview was played, defense attorney Ryan Hamer suggested investigators used leading questions to mischaracterize Fredres’ real intents.

But prosecutors spent 2½ days this week presenting evidence to show the acts were premeditated and Fredres had hatched a murder-suicide.

Investigators recovered a letter in which Fredres threatened suicide – “Please put in [the] newspaper: I took my own life” – after enumerating people who betrayed him. Brenda Barnes was among those listed. (Fredres told police he tried to kill himself but the gun wouldn’t work.)

And before he drove to the Barnes’ residence, Fredres bought ammunition and loaded a black Cadillac with a duffel bag that included a hunting knife. Sales receipts, video surveillance and other items linked him to the ammo and vehicle.

Thursday, two scientists with the state police crime lab testified they did DNA testing on the 9-mm pistol retrieved from the field where Fredres surrendered to police on St. Patrick’s Day 2021. The results matched a DNA sample collected from Fredres.

That gun also was found to have fired some of the fatal shots. A firearms expert testified he found similarities between the gun and two bullets recovered at the crime scene.

Not all the bullets analyzed could be conclusively linked to the 9-mm, however, and Fredres’ DNA profile wasn’t the only one found on the gun. Defense lawyer Ryan Hamer seized upon both disclosures.

The lab, in fact, found a “major” DNA profile from Fredres – that is, a sample substantial enough to link him to the gun – although two minor profiles also were found, meaning there wasn’t enough to establish links with other individuals.

Fredres and Hamer have tried to spotlight forensic deficiencies in the state’s case. Previous witnesses acknowledged there were no lift fingerprints, footprints or surveillance footage recovered from inside the Barnes’ home. Similarly, the steering wheel and gear shift of the Cadillac were swabbed for gunshot residue, but those swabs were never tested.

Jurors were ordered to report at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the La Salle County Justice Center on Etna Road in Ottawa for closing arguments.