ST. PAUL, Minn. — Heather Leann Horst was depicted as a sort of black widow of St. Paul's West Side as her murder trial began Thursday.
The 25-year-old is accused of orchestrating the "coldly calculated execution" of her husband, using stories of abuse and an offer of $100,000 in insurance money to manipulate a mentally ill man to put a bullet in the head of the victim while he lay sleeping.
"I want him dead," Horst told the man she was trying to turn into a hit man, according to Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Jada Lewis in her opening statement in district court in St. Paul.
Horst is accused of aiding and abetting first- and second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first- and second-degree murder in the slaying Aug. 5 of her husband, Brandon James Horst, 25, a member of the Minnesota Air National Guard.
Aaron William Allen, 26, of South St. Paul, a friend of Heather Horst, confessed he shot Horst to death in his home on the 400 block of Bellows Street in St. Paul.
Lewis said Heather Horst goaded Allen into committing the murder, preying on his history of physical and sexual abuse by claiming that her husband's abuse had caused a miscarriage.
Horst also knew Allen needed money, and she offered him a share of the $1 million in life insurance that Horst said she would get if her husband were dead, Lewis said.
The prosecutor said the Horsts' marriage was falling apart in the summer of 2013, but Heather Horst told friends she didn't want a divorce because she was afraid of losing her home, car and dogs and that her family would disown her.
Instead, she decided to have her husband killed, Lewis said.
"His life was cut short by his wife's greed and selfishness," said the prosecutor.
Heather Horst arranged for Allen to hide in the basement of the Horst home and armed him with her pistol, telling him to wait until her husband was asleep, Lewis said.
When Allen expressed doubts, Horst told him, "Everything's going to be OK. Everybody dies at some point, and what about what he did to the baby?" Lewis said.
But defense attorney Deborah Ellis said Allen was fulfilling a longtime fantasy to kill someone.
"He acted on his own," Ellis said. "Not at her request. Not with her encouragement."
Ellis said Allen is the prosecution's key witness against Horst, but his credibility is in question.
"He is clever," she said. "He has manipulated people, made false claims. He alone committed the murder. He is a cold-blooded murderer."
But when Allen took the stand, he testified that Heather Horst spent Aug. 4 helping to plan a murder.
He said the plot initially was to involve two other men who would help Allen slit Brandon Horst's throat and make it appear that the slaying occurred in a burglary.
Allen, who was engaged to Brandon Horst's stepsister, said Heather Horst told him he should be the one to kill her husband.
Allen said he was angered because Heather Horst told him that she had miscarried after her husband had punched her in the stomach. He said Heather Horst said it wouldn't do any good to report the abuse to police. She said the police wouldn't do anything because her husband was in the military, Allen said.
"She asked me to kill him. Directly flat out just like that," Allen said. "She was very persistent on me being the one to slit Brandon's throat."
Allen said Heather Horst bought black clothing, shoes and gloves for the men to wear during the slaying to avoid being traced to the crime.
But later in the day, Allen said, the other two men disappeared and he was left to do the killing himself. He said the plan changed.
He testified that Heather Horst gave him her pistol and had him hide for a couple of hours in her house in a basement strewn with animal feces. He said he waited for Brandon Horst to come home and go to bed.
Allen said he hesitated, walking up and down the stairs two or three times before he shot Horst early Aug. 5.
He said that when he expressed second thoughts earlier, Heather Horst told him: "We'd get away with it. Don't worry. Just make it quick and clean, and we'll be free."
He also said the woman told him, "Think about what happened to the baby. Think about the abuse."
He said that when he shot Brandon Horst, Heather Horst had left the house. Before the killing, he said, Heather Horst had told him to fire "at least two or three rounds."
After the shooting, Allen said, when Horst picked him up outside the home, the first thing she asked him was, "How many rounds did you put into him?"
Allen, who hung his head and cried as he described the killing, said he fired only once.
"One was too much," he said.
Allen also testified that while Heather Horst told him her husband abused her and that she had cancer, he never saw any physical signs of injury or illness.
He said she once drove to his apartment in South St. Paul with a piece of red twine around her neck that she said her husband had choked her with. He said that struck him as odd.
"Why would you drive 10 minutes with something tied around your neck?" he said.
He said he never saw Horst cry or contact friends or relatives to tell them of her husband's death.
Lewis said Horst didn't go to her husband's funeral.
Under cross-examination, Allen said he has five separate personalities. But Ellis, the defense attorney, questioned whether Allen has ever had a diagnosis of that condition by a health care professional.
Allen was arrested Aug. 10, five days after the killing and pleaded guilty March 5 to second-degree intentional murder.
Both sides agreed he would be sentenced to the maximum allowed under state law: 40 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for June 10.
Horst's trial was expected to continue Friday.