Donald Fredres didn’t make it sound like an accident — he admitted firing the three fatal shots — but he did tell police things spun out of control and, “I didn’t think anything was going to happen.”
A jury didn’t buy his meant-no-harm claim in last year’s double murder in Sheridan. Now, the 38-year-old Sandwich man is going to prison for the rest of his life.
Jurors deliberated less than two hours Friday and convicted Fredres of murdering Brenda and Gregory Barnes Sr., his former in-laws, in their Sheridan home on March 16, 2021. He also was convicted of attempted murder for firing multiple shots through a door at ex-wife Jenell Johnson, who was hurt by flying glass but not with a bullet.
Fredres appeared to bow his head forward slightly as the verdicts were read. A few sniffles could be heard from the packed spectator gallery. Most onlookers were victims’ supporters who variously declined comment outside courtroom.
La Salle County State’s Attorney Todd Martin expressed some relief at concluding the trial, in part because COVID-19 postponed the trial once and threatened to do so again.
“That was one of our fears when this was set for trial the last time is that we’d get two or three days into it and somebody would end up getting sick,” Martin said. “There was the potential that one of our witnesses may have had COVID. Fortunately, we were able to get him to testify and we concluded the matter.”
Defense attorney Ryan Hamer deferred comment until sentencing.
Sentencing is set for July 1 but the outcome is preordained. Fredres would at one time have been eligible for the death penalty for multiples murders and because the victims were 60 or older — both were 62 — but since capital punishment was abolished in 2011 his punishment is automatic natural life.
Fredres did not take the stand during the weeklong trial; but jurors did view a roughly 75-minute taped police interview taken hours after his apprehension on St. Patrick’s Day 2021. Hours earlier, he admitted, he went to the Barnes’ residence to ask where he could find their daughter, Jenell Johnson.
“Truthfully, I just wanted to say ‘hi’ to my kids,” Fredres told police.
Fredres nonetheless admitted he brandished a gun when his former in-laws refused to disclose their daughter’s whereabouts. They wouldn’t budge and, “It just happened.”
With that statement admitted into evidence — Fredres had waived his rights before speaking with investigators — Fredres and Hamer were left to try to persuade jurors the shootings weren’t premeditated and to poke holes in the case.
Hamer argued the evidence against Fredres wasn’t as ironclad as prosecutors portrayed. He cited reports and statements suggesting Jenell Johnson and husband Dale got limited or unreliable looks at Fredres, undermining their eyewitness testimony.
Hamer argued there were forensic deficiencies in the state’s case, too. Though a crime lab analyzed the gun and found a “major” DNA profile from Fredres —a sample substantial enough to link him to the gun — two minor profiles were also found, as well. Hamer said there was no way to know who else handled the gun.
“Is it possible there is more to this story?” Hamer told jurors. “Is it possible there is more than one person involved that you didn’t hear about? Of course it’s possible.”
As for the statement, Hamer said Fredres was in “a fragile state of mind” and that his answers could have been colored by the leading questions of his interrogators.
“These are questions I don’t have to answer,” Hamer said, reminding jurors the burden of proof rests with the prosecution. “These are questions the state must answer.”
But Martin reminded jurors that Fredres showed up at Johnson’s door with 38 bullets and he put nine of them through her door. Earlier in the day, Fredres bought additional ammunition, drafted a suicide note and began an armed search for his ex-wife that led first to her parents’ home. Those shootings, he said, were not accidental or random.
The case, Martin said, is “replete with evidence that (Fredres) thought about this, that he planned this, that he searched Jenell Johnson’s address to find her, and that he and he alone carried out these crimes.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat this: This guy planned this thing out.”