Homicide investigator Sgt. Jim Gray thought he was interviewing a victim, but by the end of the conversation he had concerns he was sitting with a suspect.
In 2010, Nicholas Firkus reported that a man had broken into the St. Paul home he shared with his wife and that he and the intruder struggled over Firkus’ shotgun. Firkus said his wife, Heidi, was fatally shot in the back. Nicholas Firkus had a gunshot wound to the thigh, which he also said was from the struggle.
Firkus is now on trial for first-degree murder in the shooting of Heidi Firkus, 25. Now 39, he was charged in 2021.
Gray interviewed Firkus the morning of April 25, 2010, the day of the shootings. In a video played for jurors Monday of their conversation, Gray ended by asking Firkus, “Did you have anything to do with this?”
“No, absolutely not,” Firkus, then 27, told him.
Testimony in Firkus’ trial in Ramsey County District Court began Jan. 27 and the prosecution is still presenting its case before Firkus’ defense attorney will present their side of the story.
Investigator questioned why Heidi went down stairs first
Firkus told Gray he woke up about 6 am on April 25, 2010, got a glass of water from their upstairs bathroom, and went back to sleep for 10 to 15 minutes when he heard the screen door open and someone fiddling with the knob to their downstairs door, trying to break into their home in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway area.
Firkus said he grabbed his shotgun, which he used for grouse hunting, from their bedroom closet. He told Gray he’d kept the weapon in the basement until about a month before, but moved it upstairs because he was concerned about corrosion. He also said he wanted the shotgun to be nearby in case it was needed for self-defense.
Firkus said he loaded the shotgun with two rounds, woke up Heidi and told her to call 911, which she did about 6:30 am “She was terrified,” Firkus told Gray, but he said she remained “pretty calm” on the 911 call.
Gray assumed Firkus was walking down the stairs first, but Firkus told him it was the other way around. He said he had Heidi walk directly in front of him because he was trying to move her along quickly.
By the front door, Nick said neither he nor Heidi looked out the front window or peephole because they wanted to get out the back door, to the garage and escape in their car.
Prosecutor Rachel Kraker asked Gray on Monday what made him assume Nicholas would have taken the lead.
“As a man I would want to go down first,” Gray told jurors, adding that being armed with a weapon would also make him want to go down the stairs first.
‘Started freaking out’ after shooting
As soon as they got to the bottom of the stairs, the front door opened, Firkus told Gray. Firkus, who said he was a right-handed shooter, said he was holding the gun with his left hand and his jeans with his right hand. He said he tried to push the door shut but it opened.
Firkus said the intruder grabbed the barrel of the gun and dropped his jeans. The intruder was pushing the gun and Firkus said his finger slipped onto the trigger and the gun went off.
Heidi Firkus, who was running towards the back door, was shot in the back, Firkus said. She fell down face first.
Nick Firkus said he and the intruder continued struggling with the gun and it went off a second time, shooting Firkus in the thigh. Firkus said he fell to the ground and then the suspect was gone; he said he didn’t think the man took anything from the home.
Firkus made his way to Heidi and used her phone to dial 911; her call had disconnected when she was shot.
“I just started freaking out,” he told Gray, adding that he was shouting Heidi’s name and he rolled her over to make sure she was OK, but got no response from her. He said he held her hand until police and paramedics arrived.
Paramedics took Nick Firkus to the hospital for treatment of a graze wound and he was released about 10 am A police officer drove him from the hospital to police headquarters for the interview with Gray. The investigator said he wanted to get information from Firkus about the intruder.
Firkus was not under arrest and was free to leave at any time, Gray testified.
Gray’s testimony continues Tuesday. Firkus’ attorneys haven’t cross-examined him yet.
Firkus said he and Heidi knew about financial problems
Gray asked Firkus in the interview if the couple had any problems.
“Just the normal stuff like stress about finances,” Firkus said. “… We’re still best friends.”
Firkus then told Gray they were planning on moving the next day. Gray asked him where and Firkus said they hadn’t figured it out yet.
Firkus said their house in the 1700 block of West Minnehaha Avenue had been foreclosed and they had to be out on Monday. It was a “private struggle for us,” Firkus told Gray.
Gray said he didn’t see signs of packing when he walked through the house right after the shootings.
“We’re both kind of dealing with the shame of the whole thing,” Firkus told Gray. “… Both of us are too stubborn to admit we’re failing.”
They were going to move as much as they could out of the house and into the garage, and talk to their parents about it the next day, Firkus also said.
“No one knows about this except you and I?” Gray asked in the interview.
“And Heidi,” Firkus told him.
The prosecution is trying to make a case that Nick Firkus handled the couple’s finances, and Heidi was unaware of the foreclosure and eviction. They said in opening statements that Nick staged a burglary because he was “desperate, ashamed and had run out of time,” and shot his wife and himself.
Firkus’ attorneys said in opening statements Heidi knew about the foreclosure and eviction, and Nicholas had no reason to kill his wife. “Her death was the tragedy of his life,” his attorney said.
Firkus told Gray that he and Heidi had been working on their budget the night before the shootings, and they watched the “Avatar” movie at home. To Gray’s question about life insurance, Firkus told him neither of them had insurance policies.
Investigator asked why he went downstairs
During the 2010 interview, Gray posed a question to Firkus about the break-in: Why didn’t he sit at the top of the stairs, waiting with his shotgun? If the man had broken in and Firkus was in fear for his life, Firkus would have been justified in killing him, Gray said in the interview.
Firkus told Gray he’s a compassionate person and not the type who could pull the trigger.
Also during the interview, Firkus told Gray the intruder got four feet into the house and they struggled through the front entryway. Gray testified in court Monday that he did not see any signs of a struggle in the home and a table near the front door had several items on it, but none were knocked over.