MANKATO — Dabbing at her eyes with a tissue and responding with mostly “yes” answers, Jennifer Nibbe said she doesn’t remember the details about the morning she held a shotgun to her sleeping husband’s head and pulled the trigger.
Nibbe, 35, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Wednesday, admitting that she shot and killed 26-year-old James Nibbe in their house south of Lake Crystal without pre-meditation. With credit for the 21 months she’s served in jail since her arrest in September 2010, Jennifer Nibbe could be released from prison and placed on supervised release in about 15 years. Her total sentence is about 25 years and a sentencing hearing has been scheduled for July 9, the day a three-week trial had been scheduled to start.
A first-degree murder charge, which could have resulted in a life sentence with a conviction, was dismissed in a plea agreement that was reached late last week and discussed in District Court Judge Bradley Walker’s chambers Tuesday. Walker accepted the plea conditionally, saying he wanted to review evidence supporting the plea because Nibbe was saying she didn’t specifically remember committing the crime.
Nibbe called 911 the morning of Aug. 31, 2010, to report James Nibbe had been shot by an intruder. When law enforcement officers arrived, she told them the intruder also attacked her. She quickly became a suspect because investigators, looking at the muddy ground outside, found no evidence that anyone else had been near the house that morning. Jennifer Nibbe’s teenage son, Brady Brown, was at home, but they both told investigators he was sleeping and didn’t wake up until after the initial 911 call.
An investigation eventually led to Nibbe’s arrest about a week after the shooting. During an interview in jail, she told Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Special Agent Micheal Anderson and Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Detective Paul Barta that she had shot James Nibbe while he slept. She said, after taking a large amount of prescription-strength pain killers, she woke up during the early-morning hours, went to get a shotgun, loaded it and shot her husband in the head at close range after throwing a blanket over his shoulder.
Nibbe also told the detectives her son had not been involved.
Memories about much of what happened that day and the day she made the video recorded confession were “fragmented,” Nibbe said Wednesday. She said she was relying on that interview and written reports from investigators while she provided Walker with the factual basis needed to legally support her plea.
Nibbe had watched the video. So she understood how what was on it, along with additional evidence, could result in a jury finding her guilty of the more serious charge of first-degree murder, she said.
“It’s video taped and there’s audio,” Nibbe said. “So if I remember or not is irrelevant.”
“What do you recall,” Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott asked Nibbe shortly after she made her guilty plea.
“I remember getting up that morning,” she said. “A lot of it is blank. I do remember the police being there. I remember being at the hospital.”
An April trial was delayed after Nibbe’s attorney, Richard Hillesheim, made motions to keep a jury from seeing and hearing the recorded confession. He also asked to have the trial moved to another county due to extensive media coverage. Walker denied both requests.
McDermott also made a motion asking Walker to keep Nibbe from using a heat-of-passion defense that, according to court documents filed by Hillesheim, would have claimed she was the victim of “ongoing physical and sexual abuse.” Walker had not issued a ruling on that request.
After the hearing, Hillesheim said one of the reasons Nibbe accepted the plea agreement was she didn’t want put her family or James Nibbe’s family through a trial. That could have brought forward more information about her abuse allegations.
McDermott said James Nibbe’s family was consulted about the plea agreement. He declined to say whether the family supported his decision to dismiss the first-degree murder charge. He did say it wasn’t a quick decision and it also came with input from others involved, including law enforcement.
McDermott provided Walker with a binder full of reports, which hadn’t been filed during previous court hearings, to support Nibbe’s plea. The information, which Walker said would remain confidential until he formally accepts Nibbe’s plea, included investigator reports and at least one lab report from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, McDermott said.
Before the 30-minute hearing ended, Walker said it’s likely the plea will be accepted. “I see nothing in this agreement that raises a red flag for the court.”