Heather Frank killing exposes cracks in system that allowed an alleged abuser to commit murder

Frank's murder is featured in a “20/20” episode airing Friday, June 2.

June 2, 2023, 8:23 AM

When Heather Frank reported to police that an argument with her boyfriend led to him allegedly throwing punches, she was lying injured in a Denver hospital bed. It was April 2019, and she was one of more than 59 million women in America to report domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to a 2022 CDC report based on data from the 2016 to 2017 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.

According to police reports obtained by ABC News and interviews with Frank’s friends and family, this was not her first brush with domestic violence – she had reported suffering abuse at the hands of her boyfriend, Kevin Eastman, for years.

Police body camera footage captured the aftermath of this 2019 incident at a Denver hotel. From her hospital bed, Frank tearfully pleaded with an officer to do something. She told him she was afraid Eastman would hurt her again. She expressed concern that the altercation -- during which Eastman allegedly punched her three times in the ribs -- was not going to be taken more seriously. In the video, obtained by ABC News and shared with the permission of Frank’s family, she asked, “Did he just f-----g get away like he always does? This isn't the first time he's done this to me.” The officer responded that police are “taking this very seriously” and to “just trust in the process.”

PHOTO: Heather Frank is shown with two of her children in this undated photo.
Heather Frank is shown with two of her children in this undated photo.
Courtesy of Alex McLaughlin

Frank, a beloved mother of three from Greeley, Colorado, said in the body camera footage that she didn’t “trust the process.” Although a warrant was issued for Eastman's arrest, he was not immediately arrested in that 2019 incident. Ten months later, Eastman murdered Heather Frank and her acquaintance, local musician Scott Sessions.

The murder of Heather Frank is featured in a “20/20” episode airing Friday, June 2, at 9 p.m. ET.

Domestic violence trends in the United States are pervasive – and rising.

From 2016 to 2018, reports of domestic violence in the U.S. increased 42% -- accounting for 20% of all violent crime in 2018, according to Bureau of Justice statistics. In fact, one in two female murder victims was killed by an intimate partner in 2016, according to a 2019 CDC report. That statistic is especially sobering considering that American women were more than 20 times more likely to be killed by firearms compared to women in other high-income nations in 2015, according to a 2019 comparative study published in Preventative Medicine.

In 2023, ABC News investigated why Eastman was not immediately arrested after the 2019 incident in Denver.

According to a representative for Denver's Department of Public Safety, the warrant for Eastman's arrest was issued but never assigned. “While this unit would like to attempt to arrest all individuals with active warrants, due to the volume of warrants, they must prioritize their efforts based on the known facts of the case and on violent felony warrants (homicide, attempt homicide, sex assault, robbery etc.),” the representative wrote in an email to ABC News.

In this instance, the warrant was for a misdemeanor assault charge, which Colorado labels as “knowingly or recklessly” causing injury, rather than a first-degree case which labels the injury as “intent to cause serious bodily injury.” After the alleged assault, Eastman wouldn't be arrested until after he committed a double homicide in 2020.

Domestic violence can be a precursor to future violent patterns. From 2014 to 2019, about 68% of all mass shooters had a history of domestic violence, according to an 2021 article published in Injury Epidemiology. If an abuser has access to a firearm, as Kevin Eastman did in 2020, the risk of femicide rises by 400%, according to a 2003 report in the American Journal of Public Health.

Frank had reported Eastman previously to the Greeley Police Department in Colorado for assault in 2015. Eastman pleaded guilty to assault in the third degree and was sentenced to two years supervised domestic violence probation, $106 in fines and a one-year jail sentence on work-release – a program Weld County utilizes where offenders can work in a community to satisfy jail time. Five years earlier, a court dismissed Eastman on another charge accusing him of causing injury as an act of domestic violence in a prior relationship before Frank.

Back in the hospital room in 2019, Heather Frank struggled to understand who was there for her protection. Not the hotel security, who she says let Eastman check out of the hotel and leave the scene even after she told them what had happened. Not Denver emergency response teams, who Frank says took an hour to arrive at the scene – she notes, “I could’ve already been beaten to death” by the time help arrived. Frank, who says she “ran for [her] life,” was looking for answers.

A Denver police spokesperson told ABC News in a statement: “In this incident, when the security guard called, they indicated that there was no imminent danger to the victim. She was then transported by ambulance where officers arrived within an hour to take the report.”

“I don't understand what you guys are for,” she told police at the time. “I feel like somebody really needed … to help.”

“He's not going to get away with it,” the police officer promised.

PHOTO: ABC News' Matt Gutman is shown talking to Larimer County investigator Justin Atwood during a recent interview.
ABC News' Matt Gutman is shown talking to Larimer County investigator Justin Atwood during a recent interview.
ABC News

When Kevin Eastman faced trial earlier this year for the 2020 murders of Heather Frank and Scott Sessions, prosecutor Yvette Guthrie made clear what authorities saw as the through-line between Eastman’s previous behavior and the double homicide charges he faced.

“At its very core, this case is about domestic violence,” Guthrie told jurors in her opening statement. The prosecutors hammered home this point, calling a domestic violence expert as a witness in trial. As Guthrie told ABC News, she sees the prior violence in Eastman and Frank's relationship as “another little piece of evidence.”

During the trial, Eastman's defense acknowledged that the relationship between Heather and Kevin was tumultuous, but did not directly respond to claims that Kevin was abusive.

In 2023, Kevin Eastman was sentenced to two life sentences without the possibility of parole.

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or access help through their chat at thehotline.org.