AP NEWS

Homicide suspect was ex-girlfriend, mother of victim’s child

March 23, 2019

The Polson woman accused of murdering Thompson Falls resident Matthew George LaFriniere in May 2018 was LaFriniere’s ex-girlfriend and had a child with him, according to charging documents filed this week in Sanders County District Court.

Danielle Jeanette Wood was arrested Wednesday morning and charged with deliberate homicide. She is being held on a $1 million bond, according to the Sanders County Sheriff’s Office.

Based on Wood’s purchase of a handgun less than two months prior to the death of LaFriniere, connections between Wood’s cellphone and a disposable phone linked to Wood and statements from family members and neighbors, “probable cause exists that the defendant (Wood) has committed the alleged offense of deliberate homicide,” court documents state.

LaFriniere, 51, was found dead by one of his co-workers on May 3, 2018, underneath a piece of plywood, lying face down on the ground. He had been shot three or four times in the chest, back and hand.

A Thompson Falls police officer had gone to LaFriniere’s residence earlier that day to conduct a welfare check after LaFriniere’s father said his son hadn’t shown up for work at Empire Builders Ace Hardware in Thompson Falls that morning and wasn’t answering his phone. The officer saw LaFriniere’s truck in his driveway but didn’t find him at home.

An officer interviewed Wood that same day and learned the couple have a child together. Wood claimed she had gotten a text message from LaFriniere saying he was predisposed in Trout Creek and that she should take their daughter. Wood characterized the texts as “strange” because they didn’t originate from his phone number, but rather a number later tracked to a disposable Tracfone, according to court documents.

The couple were never married, and were involved in a custody dispute that resulted in LaFriniere getting primary custody of their child. “This was due in part to Wood’s severe alcoholism,” the state’s motion for leave to file an information and affidavit in support alleges.

LaFriniere’s stepmother told law enforcement she drove past his home the night of May 2 and observed Wood’s black SUV at the home, “and saw Wood running back and forth between her vehicle and the residence.”

State social workers on May 4 conducted a forensic interview of the couple’s daughter and learned Wood had picked her up from school. The daughter told the social workers Wood made several calls to LaFrieniere but was unable to reach him, and that he “had left her some ‘weird text’ messages about him being held up in Trout Creek,” court documents state.

Investigators later discovered Wood had purchased a new .38 special caliber revolver and ammunition in mid-March 2018. The bullet retrieved from LaFriniere’s hand was “consistent” with Wood’s firearm, court documents note.

Wood’s neighbor, Henry Cheeseman, was interviewed by a detective and said he had been in a relationship with Wood three years earlier.

“Cheeseman stated that during that time Wood asked Cheeseman if he would be willing to ‘take out’ Matthew,” court documents said. “Cheeseman stated that he took this to mean that Wood was propositioning him to kill Matthew.”

One of LaFriniere’s neighbors, Montana Highway Patrolman Cale Lang, told a detective he had observed eight to 10 physical confrontations between Wood and LaFriniere, and that “half of the confrontations became physical and that Wood was ‘the aggressor,’” according to court documents.

Two other neighbors told law officers they heard gunshots during the evening hours of May 2.

The cellphone texts Wood said came from a strange phone number and not LaFriniere’s cellphone were traced to a Tracfone, and the first text when the phone was activated was sent to Wood’s phone.

“At this stage in the investigation the phone data recovered is consistent with both the Tracfone and Wood’s phone being together, moving toward Matthew’s residence and then the Tracfone and Wood’s phone moving away from Matthew’s residence during the evening of May 2, 2018, between approximately 7 and 8 p.m.,” court documents state.

Wood, who is employed at the Lake County Leader newspaper in Polson, a part of Hagadone Montana Publishing, had attended a Pampered Chef party the evening of May 2, but party attendees told investigators Wood departed the party around 7 p.m. and returned around 8 p.m.

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.