WORTHINGTON — The prosecution for the State of Minnesota continued Wednesday to build its case against Christopher Kruse for the murder of his wife, Janette Pigman-Kruse, as the defense persisted in trying to introduce doubt about the meaning of the evidence presented.
Several witnesses Wednesday were asked to describe the kind of person Pigman-Kruse was.
"(She) always saw the good things in a bad situation," said Paul Standafer, her employer at Ridley Block Operations. "She liked people, and people liked her."
"She never had a harsh word toward me or anybody," said brother-in-law Heath Kruse, who recalled that when he learned about Pigman-Kruse's death, he assumed it was a gun-cleaning accident.
"I couldn't think of any other reason why Jan would've been shot," he added.
Pigman-Kruse's sister, Katherine Holt, reported, "She was loving and kind. She had a great heart." With tears in her eyes, Holt added, "Not a day goes by that I don't think about her."
Like Bailey Kruse, Holt struggled to remember all the details asked of her by attorneys, including the contents of text messages with her sister that the prosecution implied were evidence that something was wrong in the Kruses' marriage. Holt said the words were taken out of context, and that Kruse and Pigman-Kruse were happy in their relationship.
All of the family members questioned said they have never discussed with Kruse what happened to his wife, although Holt reported that "he said early on if we had any questions to let him know."
One family member's testimony revealed a potential alternative explanation for Pigman-Kruse's death.
Kruse's brother Josh was part of a 2009 criminal case involving drug conspiracy. He plead guilty to the charges, and so did his 14 co-conspirators — so nobody testified against him, and he wasn't asked to testify against anyone else. However, he did accept what's called a "proffer," an agreement to aid law enforcement's investigation in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Although Josh Kruse said he never felt he was in danger as a result, his attorney had him moved to a different federal prison because of safety concerns when a newspaper article reporting his proffer agreement was published.
Josh, who is commonly mistaken for his brother Chris (he admitted that it had happened in the courthouse that morning), said that since Kruse was indicted, he's been wondering if someone attempting to take revenge on him may have mistakenly gone to his brother's residence and shot Pigman-Kruse.
Attorneys also explored the motive presented by the prosecution during opening statements that Kruse wanted his wife's life insurance money so he could purchase a resort the family frequented.
On the witness stand, the human resources director who had handled Pigman-Kruse's life insurance reviewed documents indicating that following the murder, Kruse was the beneficiary of $50,000 in life insurance, $50,000 for accidental death and $50,000 to $60,000 from Pigman-Kruse's 401(k) plan. However, the HR director couldn't recall whether Kruse had ever contacted her to receive those benefits.
The banker that handled Pigman-Kruse's life insurance also testified Wednesday. Following the death, she said, Kruse made inquiries about the life insurance payout. He was informed that the claim couldn't be processed until the criminal investigation was finished, but he continued to follow up every three to six months.
She added that Kruse asked if Bailey and son Isaac, as contingent beneficiaries of the $100,000 policy, could receive the payout if he filled out the needed paperwork. However, when he was informed that they could, he decided the kids were too young to have that kind of money.
During the investigation, a number of local citizens provided information to law enforcement that they thought might be significant to the case. One such person was Scott Hector, a Brewster neighbor to the Kruses who lived down the street from them for 15 years.
Hector told the jury that about a week before Pigman-Kruse's murder, he accepted a job at Ridley Block Operations. When he went to the office to collect the needed paperwork from Kruse, "she didn't seem herself," he said. "It seemed like something was bothering her."
The night before the murder, Hector said he saw a man and a woman walking down the street in front of his house yelling at each other. The man was wearing a baseball cap — which Kruse often does — and he thought he recognized the man's gait as belonging to Kruse. The duo had a black dog and a yellow dog with them.
The Kruse family has never had a yellow dog, and Hector didn't get a good look at the peoples' faces, but he said he was "fairly confident" that the couple was Christopher Kruse and Janette Pigman-Kruse.
Another concerned citizen was Michael Fogelman, the owner of an excavating firm that has collaborated with Kruse's business on occasion. Fogelman has known Kruse since junior high and served with Pigman-Kruse on the Worthington Hockey Association Board.
Fogelman said that on Aug. 18, 2015 — the day before Pigman-Kruse's murder — he received a call from Kruse asking if they could settle up regarding a small debt Kruse owed for some work Fogelman had done. They'd agreed that Kruse would pay "whatever is fair." Fogelman wasn't available that day, but asked if his wife could stop by and collect the money, and Kruse declined. Fogelman then offered to meet the following day, but Kruse said he wouldn't be available to meet.
Fogelman added that at the time it didn't seem like a big deal, but when he learned about Pigman-Kruse's death, the sequence of events raised questions, so he told law enforcement about it.
In cross-examination by the defense, Fogelman admitted that Kruse may have wanted to meet with him in person to discuss the appropriate amount of repayment.
Questioning will continue Thursday.