No Charges in Whitefish Shooting Death

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead County Attorney’s Office will not press charges against the woman who shot and killed her boyfriend in Whitefish on Feb. 2, citing a lack of evidence to refute the woman’s claim of self-defense.

According to a report from County Attorney Ed Corrigan sent to the Whitefish Police Department, Katherine Lanegan, 37, of Whitefish, shot her 42-year-old boyfriend Ordean Engebretson after an evening of drinking at the winter carnival on Feb. 2.

Investigators say that immediately after shooting Engebretson with her 9 mm pistol, Lanegan ran to a next-door neighbor’s house and “hysterically” asked the neighbors to call 911.

While talking to the neighbors, Lanegan told them that she shot Engebretson because he was trying to kill her. She gave this same explanation to the first responding officers, Corrigan wrote.

Lanegan then consistently gave the same story in three following interviews with detectives. According to Corrigan’s report, Lanegan said Engebretson assaulted her several times on Feb. 2, beginning with throwing her against a pile of firewood on the porch, followed by throwing her to the floor inside the residence.

She said he repeatedly choked her, “perhaps to the point of unconsciousness,” and banged her head against the floor. He also tried to grab the knife she was wearing on her belt, Lanegan told detectives.

“At some point he stated he was going to kill her and that she would be dead before the police could arrive if she called 911,” Corrigan wrote in his report. “She claims to have been in fear for her life during these two assaults.”

When Engebretson appeared to approach her to assault her for a third time, Lanegan said she pulled her 9 mm pistol from her bag and shot him multiple times to stop him.

Corrigan said his office’s investigation into the incident included sending photos of Lanegan’s injuries to Dr. Gary Dale, the state’s chief medical examiner, for his opinion on whether the injuries were consistent with Lanegan’s description of the incident.

Dale reported that he could not refute the woman’s claim that she had been assaulted and choked, Corrigan wrote, and that his opinion would likely corroborate her story if called to testify in trial.

Investigators did not find evidence to contradict Lanegan’s version of the evening, Corrigan said, and because the interior of the residence was in such disarray, there was only evidence of the shooting.

Physical evidence recovered from the porch, however, supported Lanegan’s claims, Corrigan said, including the jewelry investigators found that had been dislodged.

The neighbors told investigators that they had heard a verbal altercation between the two, but did notpersonally observe a physical assault. There were no other witnesses, Corrigan wrote.

“As a result, were we to proceed to trial, we would lack any eye witness testimony rebutting Lanegan’s claim that she was repeatedly assaulted by Engebretson,” Corrigan wrote.

The county attorney said a concerned friend of Engebretson said he would “never hurt a woman,” and a former girlfriend said she had never had problems of abuse during their relationship and still considered him a friend.

However, three other former girlfriends told investigators Engebretson had assaulted them while drunk in one form or another, including choking, twisting arms, slamming against vehicles, and threats to family members, Corrigan wrote.

Those accounts corroborate Lanegan’s claim of abuse, Corrigan said, and would likely effectively rebut “any effort to portray Engebretson as an individual who would ‘never hurt a woman,’” Corrigan wrote.

With the burden of proof falling on the state to counter a claim of self-defense, Corrigan said his office lacks the evidence or eyewitness testimony to refute Lanegan’s claims that she was violently assaulted and had reasonable fear for her life.

For those reasons, Corrigan wrote, his office will not charge her with either deliberate or mitigated deliberate homicide.

Investigators said the shooting occurred at about 9:35 p.m. on Feb. 2, and Engebretson died at the scene.

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