WORTHINGTON — In one of few court appearances since being indicted March 15 for the murder of his wife, Janette Pigman-Kruse, Christopher D. Kruse, 46, appeared Thursday in a crowded Nobles County District Courtroom for an omnibus hearing.
A portion of the hearing addressed the challenge by Kruse's defense counsel of the reliability of a ballistics expert report and a motion to have Kruse's indictment dismissed.
In motions filed with the court, Kruse's defense counsel argues that the state has failed to prove the "foundational reliability" of the firearm forensic evidence, which concluded that the two spent shotgun shells recovered from the crime scene were shot from a Remington 870 Express Shotgun reportedly belonging to Kruse and discovered at his Brewster property. The defense seeks to preclude the ballistics expert that performed the firearm forensics evaluation from testifying as such. The ballistics evaluation was performed by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's Firearm and Toolmark Section.
The firearm in question has been identified by the state as the suspected murder weapon.
Kruse, who now resides in Worthington, is represented by Thomas Hagen. State prosecutors on the case include Adam Johnson, Braden Hoefert and William Klumpp, an experienced homicide attorney the county is contracting specifically to assist in Kruse's prosecution.
The defense is requesting to offer an additional firearm forensics report and testimony by its own independent expert, Matthew Noedel of Noedel Scientific. Court records report that Noedel's investigation would challenge the findings of the BCA's ballistics report.
According a brief filed Oct. 25 by the defense, the BCA scientist test-fired shots in October 2015 from the shotgun provided as evidence. Initial findings, the defense alleges, were that the test-fired shells had dissimilar characteristics than the two spent shells recovered from the scene. That determination was reportedly crossed out, and she modified the report to "inconclusive." The Noedel investigation reports that act as "unusual and uncommon."
Presiding Judge Terry Vajgrt said it appears the type of testing conducted is "generally accepted" within the scientific community, but will give consideration to the documents.
The defense also seeks to have the indictment dismissed, claiming that the evidence admissible before the grand jury in March was not sufficient to establish a charged offense.
To address the defense's challenge that the evidence was not sufficient, the state approached Vajgrt with 260 items of evidence from the investigation, which were presented as part of March's grand jury process.
Also at Thursday's hearing, the state addressed a number of motions of its own.
The state has filed motions requesting the court preclude Kruse from introducing his own statements to police, friends or others as "self-serving hearsay." Allowing such statements would afford Kruse the opportunity to present his own version of the facts without being subjected to cross-examination by the state, the state's motion argues.
The state also seeks a motion to restrict the questions the defense may ask prospective jurors and discussing potentially adverse effects should Kruse be convicted.
No major decisions were made at Thursday's hearing regarding the case. The defense and state are expected to file briefs and responsive briefs in the coming weeks, which Vajgrt will take under advisement.
Kruse is set to appear Jan. 13 for a pre-trial hearing.