The 40-year-old St. Paul, Minnesota husband convicted of murdering his first wife and trying to pin the crime on a nonexistent Black man in April 2010 was sentenced to life without parole on Thursday.
Nicholas “Nick” Firkus was convicted in February of shooting Heidi Firkus, 25, with a shotgun as the couple — unbeknownst to the victim — faced foreclosure on and eviction from their home.
It took more than a decade for murder charges to be brought and — in the eyes of a jury — be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But it could very well be the case that the defendant would be still be free today if he was not caught in a big lie by his second wife.
As explored in a soon-to-air episode of ABC’s 20/20, Nick Firkus met Rachel Firkus (née Watson) just a matter of months after Heidi Firkus was shot dead. The two got married in August 2012 and went on to have three kids.
According to Rachel, her suspicions about her husband’s involvement in Heidi’s death were raised when she found a notice that they might lose their home to foreclosure, due to unpaid property taxes.
“I didn’t know that this was happening and I’m living with this person. I have children with this person, and the last time he had problems with finances, a lot of things went wrong,” she reportedly told ABC.
Then came a telling — and recorded — exchange, per ABC:
Rachel Firkus decided to confront Nick Firkus and recorded the conversations, which have been exclusively obtained by ABC News.
In one recording Rachel Firkus said, “the fact that your lying was so easy for you to do in front of me over and over and over makes me think…”
“That I could murder my wife?” he responded. She replied, “Yes.”
The marriage ended in 2018. Three years later, in May 2021, Nick Firkus was formally accused for the first time of murder (second degree) in a case authorities described as a “decade old mystery.”
A criminal complaint detailed that Firkus tried to blame a “black guy” for shooting him and Heidi during a home invasion.
“He said that he got his shotgun and that he and his wife were trying to run out the back door to the detached garage to escape. He said that as they were running to the garage, he turned around and the suspect was able to take the shotgun from him and shoot him and his wife.
When asked whether the suspect was black or white, NICHOLAS FIRKUS said that he didn’t know. He said that the suspect was wearing a hood,” the complaint said.
During Heidi’s April 25, 2010, 911 call, which was entered into trial evidence, the victim frantically told a dispatcher “someone’s trying to break into my home.” She could be heard breathing heavily and screaming before she was killed. It’s clear she was terrified.
In a subsequent interview of Nick Firkus at the hospital, cops said, he falsely tried to pin the crime on a Black man.
“He said that Heidi stopped next to the front door to grab her wallet, which was on the table next to the front door. He said that it was at this moment that the door opened and there was a black guy around 6’1″ or 6’2″ with a dark hooded sweatshirt with the hood drawn tight around his face. He said that he dropped his jeans, the guy grabbed the barrel of the shotgun, they wrestled, and that his finger slipped onto the trigger and it went off. He said that the gunshot hit Heidi and that she went straight down. He said that he and the suspect struggled over the shotgun and that the gun went off a second time, hitting him (NICHOLAS FIRKUS) in the leg. He said that he fell down and that the guy took off through the front door.”
A compelling financial motive behind the slaying was revealed thereafter, investigators said.
“NICHOLAS FIRKUS told police that they were being foreclosed on and that they were going to tell their parents and friends that day and were also planning to move later that day,” the complaint said. “NICHOLAS FIRKUS also said that he and Heidi were behind on their bills, that their house had been foreclosed on, and that they had to be out of the house the next day. He said that they hadn’t told any of their friends or family about the foreclosure or their need to be out of their house. He said that they had planned to pack up their house on Sunday and Monday morning, put some of their belongings in the garage to get later, and find someone to stay with.”
Firkus, the complaint said, had done “absolutely no packing” and kept Heidi completely in the dark about the fact that they were about to be evicted on April 26, 2010, which was one day after the slaying:
Investigators have reviewed the text messages and emails sent to and from Heidi and NICHOLAS FIRKUS’ cell phones and email accounts. There is not a single message that references foreclosure or eviction proceedings or gives any indication that they would need to move out of their house imminently. On the contrary, on March 11, 2010, Heidi sent an email to a friend saying, “Wish we weren’t tied down to our house so we could move somewhere fun.” The law firm handling the foreclosure and eviction has no documentation signed by Heidi, and their representatives never had any contact with Heidi, all their contacts were with NICHOLAS FIRKUS. Investigators have spoken with Heidi’s family, friends, and co- workers, and not one person said that Heidi ever said anything about foreclosure, eviction, or needing a place to stay or store their belongings.
Photographs and a video taken inside the Firkus home after Heidi’s death show that, despite having to be out of the house the next day, absolutely no packing had been done. Also, Heidi was scheduled to work on Monday, April 26; she did not request the day off. On Thursday, April 22, 2010, Heidi exchanged text messages with a friend making plans to get a pedicure in the afternoon on Sunday, April 25. In this exchange, Heidi was given the option of doing the pedicure on Sunday or the following Wednesday, and Heidi chose Sunday. Heidi also suggested that they all go to church together that Sunday morning.
In April 2010, Heidi emailed NICHOLAS FIRKUS multiple times regarding scheduling a meeting with J.S., who was the realtor who helped them buy their house and also a friend from church. NICHOLAS FIRKUS responded by saying that he had been in contact with J.S. On April 23, 2010, Heidi sent NICHOLAS FIRKUS an email asking whether he had heard from J.S. NICHOLAS FIRKUS responded, “[J.S.] said that he’s ready to meet when we are, I told him Monday should be good.” Police interviewed J.S., who said that he had not spoken to NICHOLAS FIRKUS in over a year and that there was no meeting scheduled for “Monday.”
Rachel Firkus told ABC’s 20/20 that catching Nick Firkus in a substantially similar lie was what led her to see the 2010 killing in an entirely new light.
In September 2021, Nick Firkus was hit with a grand jury indictment accusing him of both first- and second-degree murder.
The ensuing February 2022 murder trial lasted 11 days and ended with the defendant’s conviction.
“He took Heidi’s life and saved his reputation,” Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Rachel Kraker reportedly said at trial, where she aided Ramsey County prosecutors in securing the conviction.
Prosecutors said, and jurors were persuaded, that Nick killed Heidi because he was desperate to cover up his debts and imminent financial doom.
Victim impact statements from loved ones and friends tore into the defendant after his conviction.
“Because of the lies we were told as early as the day after her murder, along with the pressures to believe them, it’s been virtually impossible to find closure to our grief as the shock begins after Heidi’s murder. The realization quickly set in that everything Nick was telling us betrayed who I knew my sister to be,” Heidi’s brother Peter Erickson said, according to ABC. “The fact that he had the audacity to peddle a story that was so obviously inconsistent with Heidi’s character was, and still is, very much insulting and offensive to me and everyone else who actually knew and loved her.”
“I really miss my sister,” he added.
Heidi’s mom Linda Erickson, reportedly holding back tears, said the defendant’s “unthinkable actions” robbed her daughter and loved ones of “participating in that adventure [of life] with her.”
“She looked forward to being a mother,” she said of Heidi.
“Because of Nick Firkus I never get to see my friend again,” Jessie Bain reportedly added, according to CBS. “Because of Nick Firkus, Heidi is missing out on so much.”
An obituary described that Heidi Firkus as a “joyful child of God.”
“Heidi committed her life to the Lord Jesus Christ as a young girl and faithfully walked with Him. She loved and was loved by her family and many wonderful friends,” the obit said.
For his part, Nick Firkus reportedly denied to the end that he committed the murder, claiming, “my body is condemned to serve for another man’s crime, but my soul is free.”
The Minnesota Department of Corrections records currently shows the convicted murderer with new mugshots upon his incarceration at the state’s St. Cloud facility:
Nick Firkus mugshots (Minnesota DOC)