Donald Fredres didn’t make it look like an accident – he admitted firing all three fatal shots – but he told police things got out of control and “I didn’t think anything was going to happen”.
A jury did not believe his plea for non-harm in last year’s double murder in Sheridan. Now the 38-year-old from Sandwich is going to jail for the rest of his life.
Jurors deliberated less than two hours on Friday and found Fredres guilty of murdering Brenda and Gregory Barnes Sr., his former in-laws, at their Sheridan home on March 16, 2021. He was also found guilty of attempted murder for firing multiple shots through a door at ex-wife Jenell Johnson, who was injured by flying glass but not shot.
Fredres appeared to tilt his head forward slightly as the verdicts were read. A few sniffles could be heard in the crowded spectator gallery. Most of the spectators were supporters of the victims who declined to comment outside the courtroom.
La Salle County State’s Attorney Todd Martin expressed some relief at the outcome of the trial, in part because COVID-19 postponed the trial once and threatened to do it again.
“That was one of our fears when it went to trial last time was that we put two or three days into it and someone would end up getting sick,” Martin said. “There was the possibility that one of our witnesses had COVID. Luckily, we were able to get him to testify and we closed the deal.
Defense attorney Ryan Hamer deferred comment until sentencing.
The sentence is set for July 1, but the outcome is predetermined. Fredres would have at one point been eligible for the death penalty for several murders and because the victims were 60 or older – both were 62 – but since capital punishment was abolished in 2011, his sentence is automatically the natural life.
Fredres did not speak during the week-long trial; but jurors viewed a taped police interview of about 75 minutes taken hours after his arrest on St. Patrick’s Day 2021. Hours earlier, he admitted, he went to the residence of the Barnes to ask where he could find their daughter, Jenell Johnson.
“Honestly, I just wanted to say ‘hi’ to my kids,” Fredres told police.
Fredres nevertheless admitted to brandishing a gun when her former in-laws refused to reveal their daughter’s whereabouts. They didn’t move and “It just happened.”
With that statement admitted into evidence — Fredres had waived his rights before speaking to investigators — Fredres and Hamer must have tried to persuade jurors that the shootings were not premeditated and to punch holes in the case.
Hamer argued that the evidence against Fredres was not as strong as prosecutors portrayed it to be. He cited reports and statements suggesting that Jenell Johnson and her husband Dale had limited or unreliable looks at Fredres, undermining their eyewitness testimony.
Hamer argued that there were also forensic flaws in the state’s case. Although a crime lab analyzed the weapon and found a “major” DNA profile of Fredres – a sample substantial enough to link him to the weapon – two minor profiles were also found. Hamer said there was no way to know who else handled the weapon.
“Is there possibly more to this story?” Hamer told jurors. “Is it possible there’s more than one person involved that you haven’t heard of?” Of course it is possible.
As for the statement, Hamer said Fredres was in “a fragile state of mind” and that his answers could have been tainted by the leading questions of his interrogators.
“These are questions I don’t have to answer,” Hamer said, reminding jurors that the burden of proof is on 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 put nine through his door. Earlier in the day, Fredres purchased additional ammunition, wrote a suicide note and began an armed search for his ex-wife which first led to her parents’ home. These shots, he said, were neither accidental nor random.
The case, Martin said, is “filled with evidence that (Fredres) thought about it, that he planned this, that he searched Jenell Johnson’s address to find her, and that he and he alone committed these crimes.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it: this guy planned this thing.”