WORTHINGTON — Court proceedings in the criminal trial for Christopher Kruse, Worthington, began Friday with opening statements and launched into the presentation of evidence.
Fifth Judicial District Judge Terry Vajgrt explained to the jurors that their role is to determine the facts based on the evidence presented. "Evidence" is witness testimony, exhibits (images associated with the crime) and stipulations. Not considered evidence are attorney narratives (although they help the jury understand the evidence), attorney questions (although the answers given by witnesses are evidence), objections (although if an objection is sustained, the answer to the question can no longer be considered evidence) and anything learned about the case outside the courtroom.
Vajgrt reminded the jury that Kruse is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise beyond reasonable doubt, and that the burden of proof lies with the state.
"Wait until you have heard all the evidence before you make up your mind," he advised.
For the duration of the trial, jurors are not allowed to discuss or read about the case outside the courtroom. They are only permitted to tell their friends and families that they are serving on a criminal case.
Braden Hoefert gave opening statements on behalf of the state. He shared a narrative of what happened in the death of Janette Pigman-Kruse on Aug. 19, 2015. He explained that in order to convict Chris Kruse of first-degree murder, it must prove five things:
- That Janette Pigman-Kruse is deceased
- That Chris Kruse's actions caused her death
- That Chris Kruse acted with intent to kill Janette
- That Kruse's actions were premeditated
- That the events occurred on Aug. 19, 2015
In the event that Kruse is not convicted, the state is also preparing to offer the lesser charge of second-degree murder, for which all of the above factors except for premeditation must be proven.
Hoefert alleged that Kruse is the only person with a motive to kill Janette Pigman-Kruse. He said that during the summer of 2015, Spider Lake Resort in northern Minnesota became available for sale. Kruse had been vacationing there for decades, loved the place and was interested in purchasing the property, but didn't have enough capital, including loans and all assets. The state's position is that Kruse wanted to use Pigman-Kruse's $150,000 in life insurance (that he knew about) to help him buy the resort.
Hoefert also said some of Kruse's interview responses were inconsistent either with each other or with physical evidence from the crime scene. He added that Kruse admittedly made no attempt to save his wife and didn't ask for an ambulance when he called 911. Additionally, a K9 unit was unable to detect a scent trail from an intruder, despite the weather being ideal for tracking. He also noted that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension did a ballistics analysis and determined that the two shots heard — the second of which killed Janette Pigman-Kruse — were fired from Kruse's Remington 870 .12-gauge shotgun.
The defense was able to counter the claims made during the prosecution's opening. Kruse's attorney, Thomas Hagen, argued that Kruse was in shock during the events of Aug. 19, 2015. He didn't have lifesaving skills, so he couldn't be expected to revive his wife. The psychological trauma would make it difficult for Kruse to recall details exactly the same way each time he told the story. One explanation for the K9 not picking up a trail would be if the perpetrator left the scene in a vehicle. Hagen added that the BCA's initial ballistics analysis did not find Kruse's gun to be the murder weapon, but the analyst ran the test again due to pressure from her supervisor.
Following opening statements, the state began to call witnesses to the stand. They interviewed the dispatchers that Kruse spoke with during the 911 call he made, the three law enforcement officers who were called to the scene and a first responder from Brewster Fire and Rescue who examined the body of Janette Pigman-Kruse.
More witness testimony will continue on Monday.