Opening statements were delivered Friday in the trial of a man accused of fatally shooting his wife in their St. Paul home 13 years ago.
Nicholas Firkus was in the Ramsey County courtroom as prosecutors laid out their case, claiming that shame and fear stemming from the couple's financial problems and pending eviction drove him to kill Heidi Firkus on the morning of April 25, 2010.
"No one wants to believe that a family member is capable of taking the life of another family member," prosecuting attorney Elizabeth Lamin said. "He was about to lose the respect of everybody around him. He was desperate, had run out of time and things were crashing down. The only reasonable conclusion is that Nicholas Firkus is guilty of murder."
Firkus, now 39, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree murder with intent.
Defense attorney Robert Richman didn't deny that on the date of Heidi's death the couple was saddled with thousands of dollars of credit card debt and their home on the 1700 block of W. Minnehaha Avenue was in foreclosure. The couple was to be evicted the next day.
But Richman said Nicholas loved his wife. The couple who met at Calvary Church in Roseville had a relationship that was a model for their friends, he said.
"He loved her and doted on her," Richman said. "There was no way he would be better off without his wife."
On the day of his wife's death, Firkus told police that he heard someone trying to break into their home about 6:30 a.m. He said he grabbed a double-barreled shotgun and ran downstairs.
As Heidi called 911, the front door swung open, Firkus told police. He said he struggled with an intruder and the gun went off. A bullet struck his wife in the back, killing her instantly. He was wounded in the leg when the shotgun fired a second time as the struggle continued, he told police.
It was 38 seconds after his wife's 911 call went dead that Firkus used her phone to call 911 to summon help, Richman said. It was not enough time for him to fight off the intruder, check on Heidi's condition, move her shoes that were found by the front door and make tool marks on the front door to create evidence of a burglary, Richman said.
"He would have had to have done all that in 38 seconds," he said. "The prosecution must prove there was no intruder and that he intentionally killed Heidi. A struggle was not only possible, but it is exactly what happened."
Investigators said they found no evidence of a struggle as Firkus had described. A small table with a beer bottle, a water bottle and a receipt on it appeared undisturbed. Heidi was shot once in the back, and police found her about 14 feet from the front door, the complaint said.
St. Paul police officer Darin McDonald, who responded to the scene, testified Friday that he did not find tool marks on the front door and that neighbors and none of the four responding officers saw anyone fleeing the home.
Firkus gave officers at the scene only "a vague description of the assailant," the criminal complaint said.
Prosecutors told the jury of seven women and eight men how they plan to show Heidi was "shot at the hand of this defendant." But the defense countered that Firkus was not the gunman, that he did "everything he could to save her" and that witness' memories fade after all these years.
"That should inject reasonable doubt into this case," Richman said.
Several of Heidi's family members and friends filled the Ramsey County Courthouse where proceedings are expected to last at least a couple of weeks. The trial is set to resume Monday.