At 6:30 a.m. on April 25, 2010,called 911 after her husband, Nick Firkus, said an intruder was breaking into their Saint Paul, Minnesota, home. She was shot and killed. Nick Firkus told investigators that his gun discharged when he struggled with the intruder – but something in his story struck police as odd.
"It never felt right," Sgt. Nichole Sipes of the Saint Paul Police Department tells "48 Hours" contributor Jamie Yuccas. "The story never made sense to me."
A SHOOTING AT THE FRONT DOOR
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Well, this area of Saint Paul, where Heidi and Nick Firkus lived, I would characterize as generally a quiet neighborhood.
Back in 2010, nine years before she took charge of the Firkus case, Investigator Nichole Sipes of the St. Paul Police Department was a patrol cop who worked this neighborhood.
Jamie Yuccas: Do you remember first hearing about the Firkus case?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: I do.
NICK FIRKUS (to 911): Ahh, please, please, somebody just broke in our house and shot me and my wife.
911 OPERATOR: OK …
It was early on a Sunday morning.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: The 911 call was at 6:30.
Nick Firkus' story of a burglar didn't make sense to Sipes.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Most people are home at 6:30 on a Sunday morning, especially in a family neighborhood like that. … the last thing that most burglars want to encounter are people.
Jamie Yuccas: Did police ever have any luck tracking down the intruder that Nick described?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: No.
Branden O'Connor: You know, I'm looking, I didn't see anybody come out of that house.
Branden O'Connor was house sitting next door to the Firkus' and taking care of kittens.
Branden O'Connor: I was woken up by the kittens kinda walking around. … Some noise got my attention, so I stuck my head out the window (points to the window). Kinda listen.
In his first TV interview, O'Connor says he recalls hearing a muffled argument coming from the Firkus' house, listening through an open window.
Branden O'Connor: That's when I ended up hearing what sounded like gunshots.
Around this time, O'Connor said he also heard that voice crying out.
Branden O'Connor: Kind of this agonizing yell of, "you shot her, you shot me. Uh, please, please, no," something along those lines and then — then it was done.
First responders rushed to the scene. There was nothing they could do for Heidi; she was pronounced dead. Nick was rushed to a hospital and treated for a graze gunshot wound to his leg. He seemed not to be sure whether or not Heidi had been killed.
SGT. KANE (at the hospital): Like I said, we'll do our best to find out how, how Heidi is doing, OK?
NICK FIRKUS: Please.
Hours later, Nick was transported to the St. Paul Police Department.
Sgt. Jim Gray: Then Nick and I started to have our conversation in the conference room.
Nick entered the conference room using crutches. Sergeant Jim Gray took Nick's statement.
SGT. GRAY (police interview) You know, I know this is a very traumatic situation, OK? And, I'm just going to try and ease into it, OK?
NICK FIRKUS: OK.
Nick said the couple ordered in food the night before and watched the movie "Avatar." They went upstairs to their bedroom around 11 p.m. The next morning, Nick got up around 6 a.m. to get a drink of water from the bathroom.
NICK FIRKUS (police interview): I go back to sleep. I just kinda fitfully sleep for 10 or 15 minutes, and then I heard the screen door open. … kinda let it go for a little while, but then I started hearing fiddling with our doorknob.
SGT. GRAY: And is Heidi still sleeping then?
NICK FIRKUS: Yeah.
SGT GRAY: OK.
NICK FIRKUS: Like a rock.
Nick said he retrieved his shotgun from the closet.
NICK FIRKUS: I keep two shells for just in case things go weird … So when I heard things, this morning, I did load it. … and then I wake up Heidi.
SGT. GRAY: OK.
According to Nick, he told Heidi someone was trying to break in and to call 911. As she spoke with the dispatcher —
HEIDI FIRKUS (911 CALL): Someone's trying to break into my home.
They headed downstairs so they could get out of the house.
SGT GRAY: Alright. So, you are going first down the stairs, or is she, is she behind you, or she in front of you, or what?
NICK FIRKUS: Umm, she is front because I'm kinda trying to move her along quickly.
Nick said as they passed by the front door, it burst open.
NICK FIRKUS (police interview) The guy was there … I think he — he grabbed the barrel. … I don't remember exactly but the gun went off. So, my finger slipped onto the trigger.
Nick told Sergeant Gray during the struggle over the weapon, the gun fired, striking Heidi who he said was in the kitchen.
HEIDI FIRKUS (to 911): [Heidi screams]
SGT. GRAY: OK, so the gun's —
NICK FIRKUS: Gun's here, chest high.
SGT. GRAY: Yep.
SGT. GRAY (stands to demonsrate): You and I are like this?
NICK FIRKUS: Yeah.
SGT. GRAY: And then the gun goes off?
NICK FIRKUS: Mm hmm. I mean, you know, I know it hit Heidi. I just know I did. … She was running away, so I definitely hit her in the back.
SGT. GRAY: It hit her in the back?
NICK FIRKUS: Yeah.
Marcus Sarazin: I couldn't believe it. I — I don't want to believe it.
Katina Sarazin: it can't be true, that's — there's no way.
Katina and Marcus Sarazin mentored Heidi at Calvary Church.
Katina Sarazin: I think she's one of those people that you can't not like. Everyone liked Heidi. … She genuinely loved people … she was the life of the party … always finding fun ways to engage people. … and she was very loyal.
The couple met at the church, and in 2005, Heidi, 20, and Nick, 22, got married.
Marcus Sarazin: Nick Firkus … had a very warm and engaging personality, always smiling … he carried himself with confidence. … and he … had high character, high integrity in the church. That was the reputation he built for himself.
But just few hours after Heidi's death, Sergeant Gray found himself questioning Nick Firkus' account. He couldn't figure out why the couple would leave the safety of their bedroom.
SGT. GRAY (police interview): You come upstairs, you know, I hate to tell you this but my house, you know … I'm justified in killing you if you come breaking into my house.
NICK FIRKUS: Yeah, I guess the …
Nick explained that the couple had a plan in place. If they were ever in a precarious situation, they would avoid a confrontation and escape to their car in the garage and get away.
NICK FIRKUS: If we can save ourselves, let's, let's do that instead of getting in a situation where —
Sgt. Jim Gray: His story, didn't make a lot of sense to me.
Gray started probing into their marriage.
SGT. GRAY: You guys, uh, have any problems or anything like that?
NICK FIRKUS: Just the normal stuff like, ah, you know, stresses about finances and quality time and vacations and all that stuff.
SGT. GRAY: Yeah.
NICK FIRKUS: But —
SGT. GRAY: You guys aren't behind on the bills or anything like that?
NICK FIRKUS: We are behind on the bills which is a little stressful. … In fact we were planning on moving tomorrow. Um —
SGT. GRAY: Moving where?
NICK FIRKUS: Well, we hadn't figured that out yet. … We were and this is, ah, a hard, it's a hard place for us, but we, we're foreclosing, we foreclosed on our house.
Nick revealed they were behind on their mortgage payments and justfrom their home.
SGT. GRAY: Well, that's kind of, I mean, kinda close notice.
NICK FIRKUS: It is. And I think the reason is cause we're both kinda dealing with the shame of the whole thing …
Gray says his suspicions were raised. And, minutes later, he was struck by the way Nick asked about Heidi.
NICK FIRKUS: Well, I just wanna know the final answer on, ah, the final answer on Heidi.
SGT. GRAY: She didn't make it.
NICK FIRKUS: I figured that. I mean —
Jamie Yuccas: Is that typically how someone asks if their loved one or spouse has been killed?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Not only is that not typical, that that's how they'd ask it, but they wouldn't wait an hour and 40 minutes into this conversation to ask that question.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: I've watched the interview obviously numerous times. And I understand … people react to trauma differently. … But this was different than what I'd seen. … anybody that's watched that interview cannot help but be struck by Nick's demeanor during it.
Jamie Yuccas: And that demeanor was?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: This was just another day. This was something he had to get through …
Skeptical of Nick's story, Gray confronted Nick about what happened that day.
SGT. GRAY (police interview):, I, you know, part of me wants to ask you this question … Did you have anything to do with this?
NICK FIRKUS: No, absolutely not.
SGT. GRAY: OK.
NICK FIRKUS Absolutely not.
SGT. GRAY: Alright.
NICK FIRKUS: Why is there a part of you that wants to ask that?
SGT. GRAY: Well, Nick. I'm, I'm a police officer, OK? I got to ask, I got to ask the tough questions, alright?
After the interview, Nick left the police station. That day, investigators returned to the Firkus home with a search warrant. Gray says it did not look like anyone was planning to move out the next day.
Sgt. Jim Gray: Nothing was packaged up at all. … the closet was still full of clothes. … We noticed that there was still food in the refrigerator.
And there was something else that investigators questioned.
Sgt. Jim Gray: We didn't see any signs of … forced entry into the house. … based off of the physical evidence at the scene … his version of the incident couldn't be plausible.
A LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE
48 hours after Nick Firkus said an intruder shot and killed his wife Heidi, police went back to the crime scene to check out his story.
Sgt. Jim Gray (at the Firkus house): He told us that there was a … life and death struggle inside the house.
But Gray says the evidence at the scene didn't match Nick's account.
Sgt. Jim Gray (at the Firkus house): There was a vase, some receipts, a beer bottle … and none of that was knocked over. So that kind of raised suspicion to us that if there was such a struggle, why wasn't any of this stuff knocked over?
Gray says he examined the front door for signs of a break-in and did notice some markings.
Sgt. Jim Gray (at the Firkus house): … but it wasn't anything new … that would lead us to believe that the, the door had been forced open … the day of the murder.
In his interview with police, Nick said he heard someone fiddling with the front door from upstairs.
SGT. GRAY: Now what they were doing? I mean, were they just going like this? (jiggles door knob in the interview room)
NICK FIRKUS: Yeah.
SGT. GRAY: Kinda like that?
NICK FIRKUS: Yeah. Just shaking the knob —
SGT. GRAY: OK.
NICK FIRKUS: — and shoving the door.
That day, Gray and his colleagues did a reenactment to determine if they could hear the front door shaking from the bedroom.
SGT. GRAY (police video): April 27th, 2010.
OFFICER: I'm in the bedroom ...
Sgt. Jim Gray: Sergeant Shackle and Sergeant Wright were upstairs in the bedroom.
SGT. GRAY: I'm at the front door, so let me know when you guys are ready, I'll try to knock for 15 seconds then….
OFFICER: We are ready.
Sgt. Jim Gray: They could not hear me fiddling with the door.
SGT. GRAY: Alright.
Gray says he also doubted Nick's story about the couple's eviction, and a scheduled move the day after Heidi was shot.
Sgt. Jim Gray: There didn't appear to be anything boxed up or packaged up to go. … There were a few empty boxes in the dining room area … there was not a grand stack of boxes … or anything for that matter that would lead us to believe that they were going to pack up all in one day.
Meanwhile Heidi's mentors from Calvary Church, Marcus and Katina Sarazin, were learning the details about her death and the eviction.
Marcus Sarazin: it just didn't add up. It's just — something wasn't right with that story.
Katina Sarazin: It seemed so out of the ordinary that she would be moving and not have notified anyone, not have anything prepared for that. … because she planned things out and she liked things to be orderly.
On April 30, 2010, five days after her passing, the Sarazins attended Heidi's funeral.
Marcus Sarazin:Yeah, the atmosphere at the funeral was … there was a lot of emotion.
At the funeral, Marcus and Katina say they were struck by Nick's demeanor.
Katina Sarazin: I remember going through the receiving line and shaking his hand … there was no grief showing.
Marcus Sarazin: ... it just felt like he lacked emotion.
Marcus says he went as far as asking some of the couple's friends if Nick could have shot his wife.
Marcus Sarazin: And the answer I got was, no, there's no way that Nick killed Heidi. … He loved her, there, there's just no way he could have done that. And I just wasn't so sure about that.
Sgt. Jim Gray: From what we gathered during our investigation, Nick and Heidi were in a loving relationship. There was no problems or issues that anybody saw.
Joe Friedberg: Your first impression upon meeting Nick Firkus is ... no way in the world could he have committed a violent act.
The day after the shooting, Nick's family hired attorney Joe Friedberg who advised Nick to stop talking to the police.
Joe Friedberg: It didn't take long to realize that he was being looked at as a suspect.
When investigators asked Nick to sit down with their artist to draw a sketch of the intruder, Friedberg advised him not to.
Joe Friedberg: They were going to use it as an opportunity to further interview him.
Instead, Nick and his attorney hired their own sketch artist.
Sgt. Jim Gray: It was quite odd that Nick would work with a private ... sketch artist.
And brought that drawing to police.
Sgt. Jim Gray: And at that point, we were basically told that Nick … would not be answering any more questions with regards to our investigation.
Investigators released Nick's sketch to the public, but it didn't generate any leads, they kept working the case...Nick moved out of their home a few weeks after Heidi's death.
Two months later, he began a friendship with the sister of one of Heidi's best friends, Rachel Sanchez, who was going through a divorce.
Rachel Firkus: At the time I thought … because we shared something traumatic, there was a deep connection there. … Because I had come out of something traumatic myself in a relationship …
Rachel Firkus: I think Nick seemed to be handling things well ... it felt like he was very grounded ... he was, with his friends a lot, and they were processing together. So I think just his — his steadiness ... was an attractive quality ...
Rachel says the two bonded over their faith. They began dating in the spring of 2011.
Rachel Firkus: At the time, God played a big part in my life … And I think that's another quality that I saw in him, that he, he loved God like I did.
One year into their relationship, Nick proposed.
Rachel Firkus: I knew it was coming. We had looked at rings before, and so it wasn't really a huge surprise.
And a few months later, the couple married. They started a family.
Rachel Firkus: We did have kids pretty quickly.
And soon were the parents of three children.
Andrew Erickson: He absolutely loves his kids so much.
Andrew and Emily Erickson are friends of Nick. They say for a long time, Nick didn't talk much about Heidi's murder.
Emily Erickson: Yeah, it just didn't seem like there was a lot of room for his grief during that time.
But they say when he did talk about it, his story was always the same.
Jamie Yuccas: What did he tell you?
Emily Erickson: Same thing he's always told everyone from the first day, same thing he'd tell you today. … That someone was breaking into the house, and they were gonna try to get out. And there was an altercation and tragically, Heidi was killed
Investigators still did not believe that story, but five years after Heidi's death, with little movement in the case, they finally got a break when someone called in a tip —
Rachel Firkus: There was somebody that looked exactly like the sketch.
— and put a name to Nick's sketch.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Somebody called … and said, "I have an experience with this guy. I think I know who it is."
A NEW LOOK AT THE CASE
After five years without a break in Heidi Firkus' murder case, out of the blue, a tipster called police with a name after seeing the sketch of the suspect. But there was a problem, says investigator Sipes.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: He was already in prison on the date of Heidi's death.
Nick's second wife Rachel says her husband rarely talked about the case being solved.
Rachel Firkus: I had asked him … "are you gonna put effort into seeing if you can find the person that did this?"
Rachel Firkus: He didn't reach out to anyone as far as I know. … I know that from his lawyers he was told to "just stay silent."
Police found it odd Nick never checked in.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Through four investigators in this case … he never contacted one of us to ask the status.
Prosecutors Rachel Kraker and Elizabeth Lamin joined the investigation in 2015.
Jamie Yuccas: Was this case ever considered a cold case?
Rachel Kraker: It wasn't ever considered a cold case … because …
Rachel Kraker: There just was not a lot of new information coming in.
Elizabeth Lamin: Heidi's family … would check in on her birthday …. Is there anything, new development?
And there would be new developments when Sipes took over Heidi's case in 2019.
Jamie Yuccas: It seems her fresh set of eyes really made a huge difference.
Rachel Kraker: It was absolutely critical
Elizabeth Lamin: I think Sipes definitely restarted something.
Sipes dug deep — reviewing the entire case file, including an examination of a financial timeline she compiled with the help of the FBI.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: I had the luxury of looking back on all of these things several years later.
Sipes learned Nick worked at his family's carpet installation business; they were contractors for Home Depot. Heidi was a clerk at a financial services company in St. Paul. Their combined income was about $70,000 a year.
Elizabeth Lamin: They seem like they were on top of all the bills before they bought the house.
But Lamin says the home purchase in 2007 strained the couple's finances.
Elizabeth Lamin: And that home was just too much for them.
By the time Heidi died in April 2010, the couple was deeply in debt.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: He had not paid the mortgage in 22 months.
In fact, the couple had lost their home to foreclosure and would be forced to move out. But Sipes discovered Heidi apparently had no idea. After reviewing the couple's texts and emails, Sipes saw no evidence Nick ever told Heidi they were in financial trouble.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: There was no communication between the two of them to indicate that she had any idea of the depth of their financial issues.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: I was able to determine through the foreclosure and eviction attorneys that there was no paperwork Heidi had signed, that nobody had ever talked to Heidi, nobody met Heidi. … Heidi didn't go to the eviction hearing on March 8th, 2010.
Sipes says Nick and Heidi's family and friends didn't know the couple had to relocate.
Elizabeth Lamin: And if she was serious about moving … she would've gotten the day off.
Jamie Yuccas: So she was planning to go to work?
Elizabeth Lamin: Yes.
Jamie Yuccas: Why do you think he kept her in the dark so long?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Shame. … I believe he was concerned about the shame of what he had done, how it would look … that he couldn't come clean with her. … You know, it had gotten too big at that point.
And when Sipes talked to the couple's friends, she learned why Nick wanted to hide their financial situation.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: He was described by his friends as being wise and being the person that they would go to for advice.
Rachel Kraker: Nick Firkus really presented as somebody who had some of those bigger, tougher life questions figured out. … What kind of person do you want to be? … What kind of relationship do you want to have with God?
Jamie Yuccas: What does that tell you as you're investigating the case and you see someone in that type of personality?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: It just became easier to see that this was someone who did not want … his friends, his family … to know the extent to which he had failed.
Sipes says she discovered more of Nick's lies when she learned about a conversation Heidi had with a friend just the day before she died.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Heidi had talked to us about how Nick had told her that they were victims of identity theft. … it was somewhere around $180,000 to $200,000 worth of identity theft.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Wasn't true. They weren't the victims. … This was all untrue.
But as Sipes tried to figure out if there was a connection between Nick's lies and Heidi's death, she learned Nick and Rachel had divorced.
Rachel Firkus: I remember very well when Nikki Sipes came to my door.
And that Nick had also kept secrets from her.
Jamie Yuccas: Did Rachel ever say anything about why their marriage dissolved?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: She did. … There were financial issues between the two of them … Nick was lying about a lot of things.
Rachel Firkus: This is a story that's happened before, and it didn't end well. … that terrified me.
WHAT DID RACHEL FIRKUS KNOW?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Could there actually have been an intruder?
After spending 19 months digging deep into the Firkus case file, reviewing crime scene photos, 911 calls and Nick's video interview, Sipes had come to one conclusion.
NICK FIRKUS (police interview): She was running away so it definitely hit her in the back …
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: What really matters is what happened in that foyer. … and there was no third person.
Jamie Yuccas: You never found anyone else's DNA?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: No. … No DNA evidence, no physical evidence, no sign of a struggle. To me, there were only two people in that house when Heidi was killed.
Jamie Yuccas: And they were?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Nick and Heidi.
As part of the new investigation, Sipes reached out to Nick's second wife Rachel. What did she know?
Rachel Firkus: In 2020 she came to my door … And I was like, "Why are you here?" And she was like, "To talk about Heidi Firkus."
At first, Rachel, then divorced from Nick, says she was reluctant to talk.
Rachel Firkus: You're asking for a lot when you get involved in something like this. And I didn't want to. … But … I also knew that it was the right thing to do, and it was for truth.
Rachel told Sipes Nick had lied about their finances during their marriage.
Rachel Firkus: I found a letter saying that we hadn't paid our property taxes. And that we were gonna get evicted in 2020 if we didn't pay them. And when I saw that, I was like, Oh, no. … Like he was definitely repeating the same things he did with Heidi with me.
During that time, Rachel says Nick's dishonesty started to make her question whether he had also lied about Heidi's death.
Rachel Firkus: And I said, "We gotta sit down and talk."
Rachel secretly recorded the conversation on her phone.
RACHEL FIRKUS (on audio recording): Your actions have caused me to just distrust you completely.
Rachel Firkus: If there was gonna be a confession, I was gonna make sure that … I could prove that he said it.
RACHEL FIRKUS (on audio recording): And the fact that your lying was so easy for you to do in front of me over and over and over. Makes me think —
NICK FIRKUS (on audio recording): That I could murder my wife?
RACHEL FIRKUS (on audio recording): — that you could lie about something.
NICK FIRKUS (on audio recording): That I could murder my wife.
RACHEL FIRKUS (on audio recording): Yes.
NICK FIRKUS (on audio recording): Oh—
RACHEL FIRKUS: When I listen, I think "this silence kills me."
Rachel Firkus: He's angry at me … How dare I think those things. … Why aren't you saying you didn't? … Tell me I'm not right.
Rachel later shared the recordings with Sipes.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: The behavior that he exhibited in his marriage with Rachel was almost duplicative of … how he hid things from Heidi.
Elizabeth Lamin: We cannot let this man be out on the street any longer.
For prosecutor Elizabeth Lamin, the time had come to act.
Elizabeth Lamin: I told Sergeant Sipes … "we're charging him. Let's do it."
On May 19, 2021, 11 years after Heidi was shot to death, a Saint Paul Police SWAT team arrested Nick Firkus at his house and charged him with second-degree murder. A grand jury ultimately indicted Nick on first- and second-degree murder charges.
Marcus Sarazin: Our minds were absolutely blown.
Heidi's friends Marcus and Katina Sarazin were relieved.
Marcus Sarazin: It's hard to, to say, I don't know what emotion you even put to it, it's hard to say excited.
Katina Sarazin: I felt grateful.
Emily Erickson: We don't understand.
Nick's friends Emily and Andrew Erickson.
Emily Erickson: You have to believe that a good man with no history of violence … killed the woman that he loved more than anything in life for no reason. … That's what you have to believe. We can't get there.
After remaining free on bail for almost two years, on Jan. 27, 2023, Nick Firkus went on trial. Prosecutors would not be allowed to call Nick's second wife Rachel to testify or use her taped conversation with Nick. The judge ruled her testimony, and the recording had no bearing on the case.
Natalie Micheal: I went into it with an open mind.
Natalie Micheal served on the jury.
Jamie Yuccas: Did he appear like a man who would kill his wife?
Natalie Micheal: No, he did not. .. A lot through the trial … he was putting his head down … when they showed the photos of the two of them together, you know he seemed like he really was in love with her.
Elizabeth Lamin: I think Nick was … someone who … lived two lives.
Prosecutors presented an unusual motive. They told the jurors Nick Firkus staged a burglary because he was desperate and ashamed his secrets were about to be revealed to Heidi and everyone else.
Elizabeth Lamin: All of his kind of cards of lies are about to crumble. … He would have been exposed as a complete failure, a liar … to his friends and community. And instead, he's a victim. … He walks away from this … supported by his friends, supported by his family.
Joe Friedberg: Nick had no reason.
Nick's lawyers Joe Friedberg and Robert Richman say that simply makes no sense as a motive.
Robert Richman: There was nothing about murdering the woman who everyone agreed he loved that would help his situation.
And they say the state's contention that Heidi didn't know about the couple's finances simply was not true.
Joe Friedberg: Nick … said she was in on all of the major decisions. … He would say to us that … they're making Heidi out to be an imbecile.
Natalie Michael: At first, I was wondering how she couldn't know … about the finances or some of the foreclosures or some of the things happening.
But Natalie Micheal says the prosecution's case did not hinge on motive.
Natalie Micheal: The prosecution said … it really is — was there an intruder in the house or was there not an intruder?
Robert Richman: It was our position … that there had been an intruder exactly the way Nick described to the police, on the 911 call.
NICK FIRKUS (911 CALL): Somebody just broke into our house and shot me and my wife …
Robert Richman: At the scene —
Sgt. Jim Gray: The information that Nick have at the scene is that this intruder came into the house.
Robert Richman: At the hospital —
NICK FIRKUS (police interview): He just came in …
Robert Richman: — and to Sergeant Gray.
NICK FIRKUS (police interview): The guy that was there, I think he, he grabbed the barrel …
Nick's lawyers say police didn't find the intruder's fingerprints or DNA at the scene because, as Nick told investigators in his interview at the hospital, the intruder was wearing gloves.
OFFICER (hospital interview): And what else can you describe from him …
NICK FIRKUS: Gloves.
OFFICER: He's wearing gloves.
Joe Friedberg: You don't always leave DNA and especially when your hands are covered.
But prosecutors say there was something else missing from the scene besides fingerprints.
Jamie Yuccas: So what am I looking at here?
Elizabeth Lamin: This is a physical model to scale that was created by the FBI.
They used a model to show the jurors there was no evidence of a struggle.
Elizabeth Lamin: I felt that it was very important for us to be able to recreate how small that entryway is.
Jamie Yuccas (show and tell): Let's say the intruder gets in … they have the struggle….
Elizabeth Lamin: And they have this life and death struggle right in this area with nothing disturbed.
Jamie Yuccas: On the table?
Elizabeth Lamin: Exactly. … And then Heidi gets shot square in the back in a very clear shot.
Animation created by the FBI shows that the bullet that killed Heidi was most likely shot from shoulder level.
Elizabeth Lamin: The height at which Heidi is shot fits exactly on Nick's shoulder to aim and to fire.
Nick's attorneys say there was direct evidence that showed there was an intruder.
Robert Richman: In fact, there were tool marks in the door, which would be consistent with someone wedging a screwdriver between the frame and the door.
Attorney Joe Friedberg says Firkus' next door neighbor Branden O'Connor testified he heard a voice.
Branden O'Connor: " … you shot her, you shot me. Uh, please, please, no," something along those lines…
Joe Friedberg: That means there must have been another person in that house. … Nick was talking to a third person when he said that.
But prosecutors say O'Connor may have misheard Nick while he was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher.
Elizabeth Lamin: He is screaming about being shot … And he did that over almost seven minutes.
NICK FIRKUS (TO 911): Somebody just broke into my house and shot me and my wife.
NICK FIRKUS (TO 911): Please!
911 OPERATOR: Please stay on the phone with me, OK?
Nick Firkus did not take the stand. After an 11 day trial, the case went to the jury.
Emily Erickson: If there's anything in this case, there's reasonable doubt.
Andrew Erikson: Yeah.
JUSTICE FOR HEIDI
As the state and Nick Firkus' defense team presented their closing arguments on Feb. 10, 2023, attorneys on both sides were hopeful the jury would make the right decision.
Elizabeth Lamin: It was a hard-fought litigated trial.
Elizabeth Lamin: We had great, we thought, circumstantial evidence that what Nick said happened did not happen.
Joseph Friedberg: It's not enough if you have a hunch.
Joseph Friedberg: There was no direct evidence that Nick murdered his wife.
In her closing argument, Prosecutor Kraker said Nick shot Heidi while she was on the phone with the 911 operator.
911 OPERATOR: Someone's trying, west ...
HEIDI FIRKUS: [Screams]
RACHEL KRAKER: So, that call does end with a very, very loud noise, and the call goes dead. … And we believe … that that's the gunshot.
According to phone records, 65 seconds passed from that moment until Nick made his 911 call.
NICK FIRKUS (TO 911): Hello, please, please … somebody just broke in our house and shot me ...
Kraker reenacted for jurors what she believed Nick did before he made that call.
Rachel Kraker: I walked over in the courtroom … to roughly as far as Heidi would have been on the ground, crouched down, turned her over to check for her pulse to be sure that she was, in fact, deceased … Walked back over. Picked up the firearm … and demonstrated how he could … shoot himself … and … call 911.
911 OPERATOR: Where's the guy that shot you?
Rachel Kraker: At 65 seconds … there was more than enough time for all of that to happen.
To prove their theory Nick shot himself in the thigh, they point to marks left by shotgun pellets at the bottom of the front door.
Elizabeth Lamin: When he shot himself, we believe that Nick was about here (puts model facing the front door)
Elizabeth Lamin: Which is how you would brace yourself, probably against the door … if you're doing it to yourself.
But Firkus' attorneys challenged the 65-second timeframe. Attorney Robert Richman says phone records also show Nick misdialed two numbers before getting through to 911, making it impossible to shoot himself.
Robert Richman: What they reenacted was … 65 seconds, which was … ignoring the two misdials, which happened at 38 seconds.
Robert Richman: The fact that we cannot find the intruder … is not evidence that there was no intruder. … And if anything, because of the next door neighbor, because of the tool marks … because of the 38 seconds, we feel that the evidence supports that there was an intruder.
Emily Erickson: This isn't blind belief.
Nick's friends Emily and Andrew Erickson were convinced the prosecution failed to prove Nick was the shooter.
Andrew Erickson: We were open to hearing … an inconsistency of what Nick said … but that didn't happen.
On Feb. 10, 2023, the jurors got the case and in five hours returned with a verdict.
Emily Erickson: My last text to Nick was … it has to be innocent. There's no way that they got to guilty this quickly. … We rushed to the courthouse, and we were so wrong.
Nick Firkus was found guilty on two counts of murder — premeditated and intentional.
Katina Sarazin: I believe justice was served.
The Sarazins were in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
Marcus Sarazin: Justice may have been slow … but fortunately, the jury got it right. … it feels like this is the beginning of healing … it's the beginning of a — of a new chapter.
Elizabeth Lamin: Heidi's mom actually said … That for so many years they had to live with Nick Firkus' narrative. … And they knew it was wrong, but they just didn't have another narrative. And to finally be able to … have him finally held accountable it meant a lot to us …
For Sergeant Sipes, there is still the mystery of what led to the couple's financial problems.
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: We weren't able to definitively say what the money was spent on.
Jamie Yuccas: Does that frustrate you?
Sgt. Nichole Sipes: Greatly. I think it would help complete the picture for some people.
On April 13, 2023, Nick Firkus was back in court for his sentencing hearing and to hear victim impact statements.
Peter Erickson (in court): Growing up, Heidi was the quintessential little sister to me.
Peter Erickson Is Heidi's brother.
Peter Erickson: Because of the lies we were told as early as the day after her murder … it's been virtually impossible to find closure to our grief.
Nick refused to admit guilt.
NICK FIRKUS (in court): I do maintain and will maintain to my dying breath my innocence of this crime … my body stands condemned to serve another man's sentence. But my soul, my soul remains free.
Judge Leonardo Castro imposed the maximum sentence.
JUDGE CASTRO: It is the sense of law and judgment of this court that you be committed to the commission of corrections for the remainder of your life without the possibility of release … Good luck to you sir, Godspeed.
Rachel Firkus: My kids are always what I think of first. … They lost in this too, because one day they had a dad that they thought was somebody, and the next day he's not that person anymore.
Nick's second wife Rachel often thinks about Heidi, too.
Rachel Firkus: I like to think I have a connection with Heidi. … she didn't get to have the voice that I have now. And so I can only hope that my voice — is something she would be proud of.
Katina Sarazin: Heidi was a genuine, loving, sincere young woman who wanted to live life to the fullest.
Katina Sarazin: She … wouldn't want people to become bitter or angry because of what she had to experience. … I think that Heidi would want people to choose to love regardless of circumstances.
Nick Firkus is appealing his conviction.
"48 HOURS'" POST MORTEM PODCAST
Correspondent Jamie Yuccas and producers Asena Basak and Jordan Kinsey discuss theories of whether Heidi Firkus' death was an unfortunate accident or an intentional murder.
Produced by Asena Basak and Paul LaRosa; Jordan Kinsey is the field producer; Ryan Smith and Michelle Fanucci are the development producers; Richard Barber and Michael Baluzy are the editors; Anthony Batson is the senior producer; Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor; Judy Tygard is the executive producer.
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