But she was haunted by his loss, and the betrayal she felt after his wife hired the hit man who fired a fatal shot into his right eye as he slept in their West Side home last year.
“You don’t want to think that someone in your family is capable of such things, and if there were signs, we missed them,” Brenda Horst said.
Jurors deliberated for about two hours before convicting Heather L. Horst, 25, in Ramsey County District Court for aiding and abetting first-degree murder, aiding and abetting second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder.
Horst stood before District Judge Salvador Rosas in a gray cardigan and black skirt, and declined to speak before she was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Brandon Horst, 25, a Minnesota National Guard staff sergeant who worked at Fort Snelling, was killed by his wife’s friend, Aaron W. Allen, shortly after midnight on Aug. 5.
Throughout the trial, Assistant Ramsey County Attorneys Karen Kugler and Jada Lewis depicted Horst as a manipulative, pathological liar who orchestrated her husband’s murder in order to escape an unhappy marriage and collect his life insurance policy. Horst also was involved in a long-running affair with a former fiancé.
Horst’s attorney, Deborah Ellis, told jurors she was an innocent widow victimized by police and friends looking to protect themselves.
In a victim impact statement read by Kugler, Brenda Horst said her son’s death traumatized her family. “I am sick to my stomach every day,” the statement read. “It hurts with every breath I take.”
His father, Mark Horst, said in a statement read by Kugler that he can’t focus at work, and often forgets what day it is.
After the verdict and sentencing, Mark and Brenda Horst said they want Brandon to be remembered for his selflessness and positive attitude.
“He was always there for others, putting their needs before his own,” his mother said. “He was a shining light in my life, and he will be missed every day.”
Benjamin Clark, a friend, said Brandon Horst mentored him when he joined the North Dakota National Guard. Clark said Brandon helped him through an especially difficult period when Clark told his superiors he was gay.
“Brandon was always the nicest person in the world,” Clark said.
Clark and Jaquita Mills said Heather Horst lied to them, spinning tales of battles with ovarian cancer, spinal cancer, alleged abuse by her husband and multiple miscarriages caused by her husband.
Kugler said at trial that Horst was never pregnant. Horst told lies of abuse and miscarriages to trick Allen, 26, into carrying out the “cold-blood execution,” Kugler said during closing arguments Tuesday morning.
Horst was the sole beneficiary of her husband’s $488,000 life insurance policy, and offered Allen $100,000 to kill her husband, Kugler said.
Ellis said Allen acted on his own, carrying out a murder fantasy he had discussed with friends for years.
“This is a man who is cold and calculating,” Ellis said.
But Kugler told jurors that Allen was a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse, and felt compelled to kill Brandon Horst when Heather Horst burst into Allen’s apartment in South St. Paul on Aug. 4 and announced that her husband had killed another baby.
That was the same day Brandon Horst told his wife that he was “done” with their marriage, Kugler said.