Year in Review 2020: Murder trial ends in acquittal
The jury ruled that the Nobles County Attorney's Office failed to prove Kruse's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
WORTHINGTON — This past year began with a three-week jury trial of a local man accused of murdering his wife in 2015, which resulted in a verdict of not guilty.
Chris Kruse, now of Worthington, was arrested in 2019 on suspicion of the murder of Janette Pigman-Kruse. Both Kruse and his family, including his in-laws, insisted that he was innocent, and the case was scheduled for a jury trial. The stakes were high for Kruse, as Minnesota law says that for a conviction of first-degree murder, the sentence is life in prison.
Jury selection began Jan. 27, and court proceedings started Jan. 31.
Fifth Judicial District Judge Terry Vajgrt briefed the jury that its responsibility was to consider only the evidence in the case as it made its decision. The prosecution had the burden of proof to show all of the following:
- 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
The state called many witnesses to the stand: dispatchers, law enforcement officers, EMS, forensic experts, the medical examiner, members of the Kruse and Pigman families, business associates and neighbors. The defense called a private forensic scientist and additional family members. The jury and audience also watched about eight hours of footage of interviews between Kruse and investigators.
After eight days of testimony from 41 witnesses, the jury spent 12 hours in deliberation over the facts of the case. While waiting, Kruse's defense attorney Thomas Hagen told The Globe it was the longest he had ever seen a jury deliberate.
Finally, on Feb. 13, the jury reached a verdict : they judged Kruse not guilty on charges of both first- and second-degree murder.
Kruse's acquittal was a huge relief for the Kruse and Pigman families, who have described the trial as excruciating.
Following the conclusion of the trial, Kruse filed a motion to have his court records expunged from public view, so a potential employer would not be able to see that he had been charged with murder. Vagjrt granted the motion, and the court documents were removed from public record.
Family members and law enforcement recently discussed the case on the Dec. 4 episode of the news program "Dateline NBC," during which a juror revealed that a major influence on the verdict was the fact that every day of the trial, Pigman-Kruse's family showed up to support Kruse.
The Nobles County Attorney's Office is not currently investigating the case or considering other suspects.