Several prosecution witnesses testified Monday that there was no sign of a break-in the day Heidi Firkus was shot and killed in her St. Paul home — as her husband told law enforcement.
Nicholas Firkus, 39, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree murder with intent in Heidi Firkus' death. On Monday, Ramsey County prosecutors called multiple witnesses who described a quiet scene in and around the home in the 1700 block of W. Minnehaha Avenue on the day she died.
Defense attorneys have argued that an intruder entered the Firkuses' home just after 6:30 a.m. on April 25, 2010. Nicholas Firkus, they say, struggled with a burglar as he and his wife tried to run out the back door. The double-barreled shotgun Firkus had in his hand during the skirmish went off twice: The first shot struck Heidi Firkus in the back, killing her, while the second struck Nicholas Firkus in the leg before the intruder ran off.
Prosecutors have argued that Firkus staged a burglary, then shot his wife rather than tell her about the couple's staggering credit card debt and pending eviction from their home.
The case sat quiet for 10 years. Prosecutors in opening statements Friday said police at the time were "ill-equipped" to process evidence. But St. Paul police got help from the FBI and in 2021 were able to file charges.
Retired St. Paul Police Cmdr. Kent Cleveland was called to the scene in 2010, and testified Monday that he saw no signs of a struggle.
"Everything was neat and organized," he said, noting that items including a beer bottle, receipt, gum and a magazine on a small table inside the front door appeared undisturbed. "There was nothing that indicated there had been a violent struggle."
Defense attorney Robert Richman noted on cross-examination that Cleveland did not include information in his report about marks on the front door frame suggesting an attempted burglary. Cleveland said at the time he believed the marks had been painted over and were not relevant to the crime.
Richman also questioned how much Cleveland remembered about the scene, years after the fact.
"I don't remember everything after 13 years, but I do remember details about the case," Cleveland said.
Rebecca Lindgren, who lives across the street from the house where the Firkuses lived, described the area as a "boring neighborhood" where any activity out of the norm would have led her two dogs to start barking.
"If the mailman came, it was like death," she said.
But all was quiet on the morning of April 25, she said, until police came to her door to interview her. She was awake at the time of the incident but did not hear any gunshots, she said.
The prosecution also played a 20-minute video that St. Paul Police Department crime lab investigator Shay Shackle recorded to document the scene.
The video showed Heidi Firkus' body lying on the kitchen floor. The rest of the house was tidy, and the refrigerator was full of food — a detail that Shackle, now retired, testified didn't fit if the couple was about to be kicked out of their home.
"That was a giant red flag to me," he said.
Shackle said a table inside the front door was extremely wobbly, and that if a struggle had ensued, items on it likely would have fallen off.
Additionally, he said, struggles over weapons typically result in scratches and torn clothing — none of which Nicholas Firkus had.
"You are fighting for your life," Shackle said.