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Jurors hear how friend found murder victim's body

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
Clark Fork Valley Press/Mineral Independent | January 20, 2021 5:15 PM

THOMPSON FALLS — Friends, coworkers and family members of murder victim Matt LaFriniere knew it was very unusual when he didn’t come to work on the morning of May 3, 2018.

Later that day, a longtime friend and supervisor of LaFriniere at a local hardware store explained to jurors how she found his body at his residence in Thompson Falls.

Danielle Jeanette Wood, is accused of shooting Matthew LaFriniere three times with a .38 caliber revolver during the evening hours of May 2, 2018, at his home in Thompson Falls.

Wood is on trial at the Sanders County Courthouse in Thompson Falls.

Theresa Sink, a manager at Ace Hardware in Thompson Falls, testified Wednesday morning she had known LaFriniere since 1984. She described in heart-wrenching detail how his dog helped her find his body.

“A few different employees called me and said Matt hadn’t come to work,” Sink said. “I called him several times, but never heard from him. I had a meeting at 1 p.m. and after it was over I decided to go to his home.

“I saw a dog in the driveway and after giving it some treats, I saw it was friendly,” Sink said. “The door was wide open and I went in. I saw the horses and went to the other side of the building. The dog was nuzzling at some wood and it drew my attention.

“I first saw blue jeans sticking out of the pile of wood and then I saw Matt’s legs. There was a snow shovel, a 2x6 board and two pieces of plywood on top of him. I moved them off him and checked for a pulse, but he was very cold. I saw his face and realized he was gone and then I called 911,” Sink said. “I wouldn’t have noticed Matt if not for the dog.”

Sink said she saw a cellphone with blood on it and a pool of blood near LaFriniere’s body.

She also talked about the day before LaFriniere’s body was found.

“Danielle had come into the store to pick up [her daughter],” Sink said. “I didn’t hear their conversation, but Danielle stormed out of the store. She was very angry.”

Defense attorney Greg Rapkoch asked Sink if LaFriniere had any relationship with any of Danielle’s boyfriends. She said she didn’t know about any relationship between Matt and her boyfriends, but said “Matt said he was having trouble with Danielle’s new boyfriend and her son, but that was it.”

LaFriniere was described by his co-workers as a reliable person who always was at work on time.

Andy Nelson, who worked at Ace Hardware with LaFriniere and Sink, described how the two men worked together and developed a friendship.

“We hunted and fished together, we’d go get firewood together,” Nelson said. “Matt and [his daughter] would walk to his mother’s for dinner and they’d stop at our house. His daughter would play with the cat and dog and we’d talk.”

Nelson became emotional as he recalled the events after LaFriniere’s body was found.

“I tried calling him during the day, but never heard from him,” Nelson said. “When Theresa called and said she had found him I went straight there. Theresa was crying and I just felt numb.”

Nelson also described the relationship between LaFriniere and Wood.

“I believe Matt had custody of his daughter and Danielle had to set up visits. They were basically in a custody battle.”

Rapkoch asked Nelson about the relationship between them. Nelson said he wasn’t aware of LaFriniere trying to keep their daughter from Wood.

“I believe they were trying to make the best of things,” Nelson said. “I believe they had been apart about two years at that time.”

When state attorney Dan Guzynski asked Nelson about the visits Wood had to arrange, Nelson said “Matt wouldn’t let Danielle have contact with her (the daughter) if Danielle had been drinking. There were conditions to the visits.”

A SANDERS County 911 dispatcher, Tiffany Broyhill, began Wednesday’s testimony by describing a 911 call she received at 7:26 p.m. May 2.

The tape was played in court and a transcription of the call was provided to jurors.

Some of the recording was unintelligible, but Broyhill said a woman called and said she heard a “boom” while driving on Montana 200 near an Amish store. Broyhill said she attempted to have the caller stop at a gas station so deputies from the Sanders County Sheriff’s Office could speak to the woman.

But Broyhill said the caller said “I don’t want to get involved in this” and hung up. When Broyhill tried to call the woman, she couldn’t make a connection.

“After receiving the call, I thought it was possible someone was trying to get deputies away from a location so they could do what they wanted to do,” Broyhill said.

Testimony before and after lunch came from Thompson Falls Police Chief Christopher Nichols and Sheriff Tom Rummel, both longtime officers in the county.

Much of their comments described how they responded to LaFriniere’s residence, what they saw and how Rummel called the state Department of Criminal Investigation to become involved to avoid a conflict of interest because LaFriniere had worked as a jail guard in the county.

When Rapkoch asked Rummel how Wood reacted when told of LaFriniere’s death, he said she seemed shocked or surprised.