Kruse, indicted on first- and second-degree murder charges, had insisted that an intruder shot and killed his wife, Janette Pigman-Kruse. The shooting occurred early on Aug. 19, 2015, while she was bed in their home in Brewster, a small town in southwest Minnesota.
“It was one of those moments in your career where you say, ‘We’re going to fight for justice,’” Hagen said.
After a three-week trial with 40 witnesses, a Nobles County jury deliberated 12 hours before finding Kruse not guilty in January 2020. “Dateline NBC” featured the case in in December.
Hagen, lead attorney and a partner in the Kohlmeyer Hagen Law Office in Mankato, laughed at the idea of keeping track of all the hours he and associate attorney Steven Groschen spent on Kruse’s defense. David Samb, another associate, pitched in, and the firm’s family law attorneys also offered input, Groschen said.
“Everything took more time, more weekends, more late night and we pretty much triple-checked everything,” Groschen said.
Hagen, who has been practicing for a decade, had handled third-degree murder cases but never a first-degree murder. He and Groschen read numerous opinions on past cases to prepare and consulted other attorneys. Groschen was in his second year of practice when what was his first multi-week trial began.
They lost a bid to have the indictment dismissed, Groschen said, but got insight into the state’s theory and saw how the judge responded to their theory that an alternative perpetrator had committed the murder.
“Once you’ve won a murder trial, you cement yourself as a trial attorney,” Hagen said.
Dozens of Kruse’s family and friends packed the courtroom, many hugging defense attorneys after the verdict.
“That was probably the peak of the experience,” Groschen said.
Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2020 here.
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