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VERNAL — On the night he died, Curtis Dale Hardinger was holding his girlfriend's cellphone when a text message from another man popped up on the screen.
Hardinger's girlfriend later told investigators her boyfriend "snapped," and what began as an argument quickly escalated into a violent attack by Hardinger that ended when she shot him once in the chest.
The details about what happened that night in the house the couple shared with Hardinger's two children were revealed for the first time Wednesday in documents obtained by KSL-TV through a public records request.
Those documents include a two-page memo written by chief deputy Uintah County attorney Mike Drechsel — and approved by Uintah County Attorney G. Mark Thomas — that supports their decision not to file charges against Hardinger's girlfriend.
"This office has made a thorough review of all the facts of this case," Drechsel wrote. "As a result of that review, this office is of the opinion that (the woman's) actions constituted justifiable self-defense under the circumstances as they existed on the night of July 29, 2014."
When Uintah County sheriff's deputies reached the home north of Vernal that night, they found Hardinger's girlfriend and his two children standing outside. The woman and the children were "extremely emotional," according to deputies, who immediately noticed injuries to the woman's face.
"Upon entry to the residence, officers observed evidence of a physical altercation," Drechsel wrote, including a 3-foot-tall by 1-foot-wide hole in a hallway wall.
Deputies found Hardinger unconscious, but still alive, on the floor of the master bedroom with a "through-and-through gunshot wound to the chest," the prosecutor wrote.
Hardinger, 34, was taken to Ashley Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
Detectives conducted separate interviews with Hardinger's children and with his girlfriend, whose name is not being published at this time because she is a victim of domestic violence. The woman told investigators that after the text message showed up on her phone, Hardinger threw her into the hallway wall and began to hit, kick and choke her as she lay on the floor.
Hardinger then took the woman's phone and his children's phones and ordered his kids to go into a bedroom until he was "done," according to the woman and the children. Drechsel noted that the bedroom was "just off the hallway where the violence was occurring."
The woman told investigators she lost consciousness more than once during the assault and said Hardinger would wait for her to regain consciousness before continuing to attack her, Drechsel's memo states.
Mr. Hardinger would not let her leave or get away. Mr. Hardinger told her that she would have to kill him if she wanted to get away.
–Uintah County attorney Mike Drechsel
"Mr. Hardinger would not let her leave or get away," the prosecutor wrote. "Mr. Hardinger told her that she would have to kill him if she wanted to get away."
At that point, the woman said Hardinger dragged her into the master bedroom, pulled out a gun, put it on the bed and told her "the only way she would get out that night is if she shot him, otherwise he was going to kill her," Drechsel wrote.
"(She) picked up the weapon and shot Mr. Hardinger," the prosecutor wrote, noting that immediately after the shooting the woman retrieved one of the children's cellphones and called 911 for help.
Hardinger's children, ages 14 and 12 at the time, corroborated the woman's account of the attack, telling detectives not only about the violence they saw, but what they heard from the bedroom where their father had sent them.
"Through the door they could hear the sounds of Mr. Hardinger hitting, slapping and kicking (the woman) for approximately 20 minutes," Drechsel wrote.
The children also described sounds consistent with their father dragging the woman into the master bedroom and said they heard their father threaten the woman's life.
"A gunshot was heard shortly after that," Drechsel's memo states.
The children told investigators the woman was badly injured when she reached them, yet still apologized for shooting their father. When she was treated at the hospital, bruises were found on the woman's eyes, cheeks, ears, neck, head, shoulders, arms, torso, back, buttocks, legs and feet, Drechsel wrote.
"No offense wounds were observed (on the woman)," he added. "Mr. Hardinger had multiple, significant bruises on the knuckles of each of his hands."
Hardinger's children are now living with family members.
A search of state court records shows Hardinger had never been charged with a violent crime; however, a woman twice sought protective orders against Hardinger in 2012. In one case, a judge denied the request. In the other case, the order was granted but later dismissed at the woman's request, court records show.
The woman who filed for the protective orders in 2012 is not the same woman who fatally shot Hardinger, according to court records.