Jennifer Nibbe's ordeal culminated in a police call on August 31, 2010. Nibbe claimed a masked intruder had broken into her home and shot her husband to death with his own rifle as he lay in bed. What seemed like a tragic-yet-straightforward home invasion belied a much darker story, the ramifications of which are still unfolding.
According to "Snapped" on Oxygen, police immediately suspected that Nibbe's version of the events didn't make sense. Nibbe said that she emerged from the bathroom to find her husband's body when the invader's gun jammed. The intruder then grabbed Nibbe by the hair — so she claimed — and dragged her to the living room where she was bound with rope.
“You're lucky you're not dead,” she claimed he told her before he made an escape through the back door of their Lake Crystal, Minnesota home.
Nibbe provided police with evidence that included her cut thighs and bruised neck. But upon investigation, no signs of struggle were obvious. Nothing was taken from the house, no footprints or car tire tracks were discovered, and Jennifer's 16-year-old son was totally unharmed.
Could the invader have scoped out the house to determine the location of James? Could he have escaped without leaving any evidence behind – in total darkness? How did he know where the gun was? Where the ammo was? Something wasn't right.
“It smells funny. It just doesn’t, doesn’t look right,” said Rich Murry, the captain of the local Sheriff's department, to "Snapped."
In interviews with police, Jennifer said her marriage was fine. But family members and Nibbe's own diary told another story entirely. An entry from her journal revealed Jennifer's flirtations with infidelity.
“There were some entries that indicated that she was not happy with her relationship — with her husband — Jim and that it was really hard for her to live as she was living because of the way she felt about this other individual,” said Murry.
Long before the murder, Jennifer had been a single mother by the name of Jennifer Gilman. Jennifer had grown up in the town of Lake Crystal, Minnesota.
“Jennifer had a lot of friends from all ages it didn’t matter if it was from our grade or younger or older. She fit in really wherever she went … She was very popular with the boys, she was very, very beautiful,” said Kerry Erickson, a cousin of Jennifer's.
Jennifer became pregnant at the age of 16. Encouraged by family, she decided to keep the child. She stayed in school throughout her pregnancy and continued on through nursing school after her son Brady was born. Eventually, she took a full-time job at a local surgery center.
“She was just always a very strong-willed person where as family you just kinda take her word for it because she’s gonna do what she wants to do and that’s just all there is to it,” said Angela Sack, Jennifer's sister.
She was 30 years old when she married James Nibbe, an electrician's apprentice.
“My younger brother, Jason, had a girlfriend at that time that went into diabetic shock, and Jim had discovered her. And so Jim called 9-1-1, and Jen came out on the ambulance call and that’s how they met,” explained Leslie Johnson, Jim's sister.
The strain of the marriage, with Jennifer supporting both James and her son, took an emotional toll on Jennifer that manifested in the couple's sex life.
“She expressed to me that sexually he was getting irritating as far as wanting to grope her all the time, um, wanting to just get on her all the time … Jennifer expressed to me many times she felt like she was constantly giving, giving, giving and just wasn’t getting back.” said Erickson.
Jennifer had considered divorcing Jim shortly before he surprised her with a present: a shotgun. One night before the killing, he taught her how to use the firearm.
Police were quickly able determined the killing had been staged.
“It appeared to be an inside job so to speak … Everything was pointing at that she was the one that pulled the trigger.” said Pat McDermott, a prosecutor assigned to the case.
After interviews with family members, police were easily able to determine the marriage had not been as pristine as Jennifer claimed.
“They were behind on the house payments. There were all sorts of financial issues,” McDermott continued. Police also noted suspicious life insurance policies that would have paid Jennifer out around $250,000 should anything happen to James.
Erickson also confirmed to police that Jennifer had been flirting with an old lover over text message.
“Around June, she started texting a man and it was not a physical relationship, it was just a ... sexting relationship … She did tell me that she had sent pretty explicit photographs to this man,” said Erickson.
Similarly, prescriptions for pain killers had officers asking questions about her behavior and whether it had changed as an effect of the drugs.
On September 10, only a week after the murder, Jennifer was arrested outside of her place of employment.
“She seemed to be maybe a little bit shocked that we were there, a little surprised to see us,” said Paul Barta, a county detective.
In police custody, Jennifer admitted her addiction to pain pills.
“The pressure of everything. The finances and the drugs. You live your day for that next fix,” Jennifer confessed during an interrogation.
She also admitted to taking her husband's life in her confusion.
“I had a couple more pills laying on the nightstand that I had taken. Trying to remember if I had water there or if I just took them dry. I don’t even know. And I woke up at 5:30 in a panic. Then I got the gun and I loaded one shell,” she said, claiming that she had been compelled by voices in her head.
Jennifer apologized in private for the murder.
“I took somebody’s son and I killed somebody’s brother, and grandson and uncle and, he was a good person. He was a good person,” she said to police.
From this, police assumed they'd be able to secure an indictment against Jennifer for first-degree murder. But Jennifer's defense attorneys signaled that she had no memory of the confession and demanded a full psychiatric evaluation for their client, who may have been under the influence of drugs at the time.
The efforts of the defense proved to be fruitless and a judge determined that she was competent to stand trial. On March 30, 2011, she was indicted.
In the trial, more complications arose: mental health experts claimed that Jennifer suffered PTSD from sexual and physical abuse she faced in her marriage.
“She indicated that it happened on at least a weekly basis, sometimes more … There was an act in the heat of passion that was caused by abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder was part of the reason for [the murder],” said Richard Hillesheim, a defense attorney for Jennifer.
Notably, Jennifer had never filed a police report against Jim, meaning there was no record of the abuse. Jennifer's father also claimed he was unaware of the full situation.
After Nibbe was finally charged with first-degree murder, her attorneys attempted to have the case thrown out. They argued that Nibbe was interrogated without an attorney present, according to KEYC.
The case became even more complicated when an autopsy revealed that James' blood tested positive for HIV and Hepatitis. (Jennifer's blood did not test positive for either.)
At the time, James' sister railed against defense attorneys for releasing private medical information.
"The public release of Jims' personal medical information in an effort to damage his outstanding character is painful for the family we wish to remind you that it is important to remember that James is not the suspect in this case, and that false positives for hepatitis and HIV and very common in post mortem testing. The Nibbe family feels re-victimized yet again,” she said to KEYC.
In June of 2012, Nibbe ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree murder (thus sparing her the death penalty) after being confined in the Blue Earth County jail for two years. Ultimately, the arguments her defense provided did not hold up in court. She was sentenced to 17 years in prison, followed by 102 months on supervised release. She was also ordered to pay her former husband's funeral costs, totaling $11,400. She continued to claim her abuse and drug addiction were at the center of the murder.
"Jen's lack of remorse and her inability to look my family in the face and simply say 'I'm sorry' for killing your son, your brother, your uncle is disgusting,” said Leslie Johnson-Nibbe at the time, according to KEYC.
In 2014, Nibbe did finally offer a public apology for the murder of her husband.
"I would, at this time, like to take responsibility and accountability for my actions," she said in a court appearance, according to the Mankato Free Press.
Her apology came in the wake of a wrongful death suit filed on behalf of James' family, who sought $1 million in damages from Jennifer. A jury had decided that Jennifer owed the family a total of $220,000.
"Although we are saddened we did not have an opportunity to show the true, soulless character of Jim's murderer, we are happy to have this behind us and we look forward to happier days in which Jim's memory will always have a place,” said Johnson.
Dan Gilman, Jennifer's father, objected to the hearing.
"She truly is sorry for what she did," Gilman said. "But she was ashamed of what she was going through.
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