Cold Case Murder Reopened
Today I’m here with Kristal who has a really interesting story she wants to tell us about and what she’s gone through having her brother in prison.
Listen to interview here:
(Edited for easier reading)
I’m the youngest of three. My sister and brother are eight and ten years older than me. My brother was arrested in 2007 and I think sometime around the early 2000’s, I had heard rumors that their friends had been investigated for a murder. My sister actually dated someone who was involved in this. She dated him for ten years. We started hearing that there was a cold case murder from 1985 that was being reopened. My sister’s x-boyfriend was being investigated and that’s when I first heard about it. Then I didn’t know that my brother was a suspect or even involved in any way. So right around the time they were doing the grand jury on my sister’s x-boyfriend. Eventually around that time the police in my home town, which is a small town in Minnesota, were asking my sister a lot of questions. My brother got involved and he was being asked a lot of questions. It was a cold case murder that had happened 25 years earlier and the police and the officials involved in it had given up on it. They didn’t really investigate it too hard in the 80’s.
The case was reopened, and they offered a $50,000 reward and started interviewing the people in my home town that may have known the people that were the original suspects and people that may have had something to do with the case at that time. So that’s the first I heard about it. My brother said that he was being asked to submit DNA and he was doing so willingly. He was being interviewed because he dated one of the sisters of a family of ten, and two of the brothers were always considered the original suspects of this murder. My brother had dated the youngest sister of that family and my sister dated one of the boys. They were partying with that group back then when they were teenagers. My sister was sixteen and my brother was eighteen. They rolled with that crowd, so they got thrown into this investigation.
There were a lot of people being asked questions. So, my brother was very happy to oblige anything they wanted to ask. He didn’t think that he had any reason to get a lawyer or anything to hide, so he was submitting DNA and being interviewed, and he was completely fine with that and telling them everything he thought he knew. Then the investigation started taking a turn where they were running out of leads and a lot of the people that were involved had already passed away or not available.
So, they were running out of leads and one thing that ended up happening with my brother is the police came to his house one day. He was an on-the-road truck driver and he had just gotten off the road from a two-day drive and he was exhausted, and his wife had just had double hip replacement surgery, so he was worried about her. The cops came barging into his house and they pushed her over. They wanted another DNA sample. He flipped out because his wife got knocked over and he’d already submitted samples already and he didn’t know why he was being treated like this. So, he punched a wall and a metal bar felt over that was extended on his porch and the police considered it aggression.
Since there were five cops there they considered it five counts of terroristic threats to police officers. So, he was taken to jail. When he was in jail at that time the newspapers in my home town put out a story right away saying that local man assaults police officers with terroristic threats and at that time everybody is thinking terrorist is a whole different thing. It caught a lot of attention. At the bottom of the article it said that he’s being investigated in relation to a 1985 cold case murder and if anybody has any information on this murder there’s a $50,000 reward.
That opened the flood gates. In my home town people were trying to get the reward and saying things like: “Oh, he told me all these things…”. They (police) went from having seven leads since the 1980’s to something like 150 leads in one day.
It’s a small town and people kind of freaked out. When he was in jail we were really concerned: he had up to 18 years in prison for terroristic threats. I went to a lawyer that I knew of, he was in Minneapolis, and he’d been in the paper a bunch, he was gaining notoriety for all this stuff for overturning DUI’s in the state and reopening breathalyzer cases and he was a friend of a friend, so I asked him to come and help me in Winona.
I met him down there and he said he was going to take on this terroristic threat case. At this time, we really didn’t think that my brother had anything to do with the murder case. It was never even an option that he would have been convicted or even accused of anything to do with the murder. So, we were mainly looking at that (terroristic threat), at that time. So, this lawyer was working with him on that. I got the money together and posted bail for him. It was $6,500 to the bails bondsman to post his bail. When I went down to post his bail, as I gave them the money and they took my signature and everything and accepted it they came back and handed me a letter saying that my brother had been indicted for first degree murder.
I was so distraught. I mean, we were down there just to get him out of jail and we had no idea that this was going to go this far. It just seemed so unbelievable. I couldn’t even understand how this could happen. It’s been like that ever since, just one nightmare after another. It literally feels like a waking nightmare.
His lawyer, during the trial for the terroristic threats, got busted doing Cocaine in one of the courtrooms. They never even gave my brother a mistrial for that. If anything, they asked him to settle out of court. The lawyer for my brother pulled him aside and said they gave him a plea bargain, but my brother didn’t want to take it. His lawyer said that he really thought he should take it and my brother said no, not even knowing that his lawyer had been arrested. It was so chaotic, one crazy thing after another. The stuff that was happening is so unreal still. It didn’t even make any sense that this was even possible to go on in this country.
During all this time my brother’s wife, like I said, had just been through a terrible accident and had this surgery and was disabled. My brother was the guy that took care of her, they were very much in love. My brother and his wife were on-the-road truck drivers together. You have to really love someone to be able to drive cross country with them, and they were very happy. They raised three kids together. My brother has grandkids, too. It was really hardest on her and she had to change her whole life. She lost her house.
…there are so many people that are affected when something like this happens. Right down from his wife to his grandkids, to his brothers and sisters, to his cousins and aunts and uncles. It becomes the topic of every conversation, at every Christmas, Thanksgiving, at any family get-together. “How’s your brother?”, and we don’t have anything good to say. He’s just getting through it and so are we…
My brother was really close with my grandma; he was her first grandson and her first grandkid. She passed away while he was in there and my grandfather passed away and then my mom passed away. This was all happening when he was in prison, where he should not be. He’s missing out on a life with his family. I know that if my brother was free right now, that he’d be able to fix a lot of the things that are going on with my family. He was their rock, and he still is from prison. He’s a great grandfather and a wonderful husband; he talks to his wife every day and she visit him as often as she is able. It’s difficult for her to get to him because it’s about four to five hours away.
It’s just taken such a toll on our whole family. Everyone has had to change their roles around and find a new way to cope and live life. It did so much damage. It caused stress to my mom’s illness. My dad is aging faster than he should be. My dad and brother were best friends and they did a lot together. It’s just really hard on everybody. It’s something that’s hard to explain to people. They think, well if he’s there he must have done something. I tell them that he’s innocent, and people say, “that’s what they all say”. There probably is a lot of truth to that, people do say that, but in this case, it’s so cut and dry. It’s so clear to everyone that knows the story that he’s innocent.
He recently took a polygraph test and passed with flying colors. There was no question at all that he was telling the truth. He just never got to be heard. The appeals process is dragging out and he’s losing time. Things keep happening in life and he keeps missing it all, and we’re missing him like crazy. It’s tough because once you’re in the system, people don’t understand how hard it is to get out. It’s not that easy. Once he got arrested, that was it. People had decided he was in there, that he was guilty. His jury didn’t even deliberate more than 15 minutes, and they didn’t listen to any of the transcripts of the interviews. That would’ve made a big difference. They had been at trial for six weeks, and this is a small town where they didn’t agree with this big-shot lawyer and they had all heard about his cocaine stuff and everybody couldn’t understand why he didn’t get a different lawyer.
There’s a lot of stigma that’s attached to somebody that’s been arrested. Public opinion was already out on him the minute his name was in the paper. They did these expose’s on a regular basis on how much the trial is costing Winona, Minnesota, and stuff like that just to keep it in the news every day. People just wanted it to be over. This is a rural community where there are farmers; it was harvest season and they needed to be back on their fields. They didn’t want to sit around and keep doing this. They saw this guy as guilty; they saw him walking in and out with handcuffs every day, with six armed guards. Public opinion was against him from that first newspaper article. It was sad and there were no other people really fighting for him. The court really didn’t give his witnesses a chance to speak. There were a couple of people on the side of the prosecution that perjured themselves at the trial and they had to be taken out. After that anyone that testified had to be represented by a lawyer. By the time the defense got to testify nobody had lawyers assigned. So, people couldn’t take the stand. There were so many things going on against him.
One thing that they did that made my whole family suffer is that they sequestered my family as gentle witnesses and wouldn’t allow them to attend the trial. Nobody sequestered as a witness was allowed to be there. I had been living in California and had not been sequestered. I flew to Minnesota and was there for the whole trial and it was so unfortunate. It was such a mess and my mother and father couldn’t be there at all. I couldn’t tell them anything that was happening. The stress of that alone was nerve racking for everybody. My brother’s wife wasn’t allowed to be at the trial. She would drive there, and she would sit outside in her truck and just wait for me to come out, and I wasn’t allowed to tell her anything.
The police would follow me around to make sure that I wasn’t telling anybody anything. Then they started investigating me; tapping our phones and watching our house. There were also news reporters outside.
It was all so one-sided, but family and friends never doubted him. The public that didn’t know him was convinced right away, however there were a couple of people that came around. One of the investigators for the prosecution and one of the defense investigators were floored by the amount of evidence pointed to the fact that it wasn’t him.
The Plea Bargain
There were two other people accused of aiding and abetting. Those people got an offer as well as my brother. They said something like, “if you just admit to this you can walk today with time served.” The other two took that plea bargain and they literally walked to the street. My brother said, “No”, he wanted to fight it because he’s not guilty. I’m wondering why we live in a world where two people who said that they murdered someone are free amongst us, and that a person who says that he didn’t and wants to fight for his family and his freedom is still sitting there. It’s just so unfair and so unjust. It really is upsetting.
I feel that there is still hope for him. The justice system the way that we have it right now is so broad and everything that he does he is doing himself. My family lost everything during this whole thing. My parents lost all their money, I lost all my money, we all invested all of our savings, everybody in my family did. My brother lost his house and everything that he had. My brother’s wife is living with their daughter and helping raise her kids, but this isn’t something they had planned. My brother wanted to have a home to come back to.
We’re working with all the people we can like the Innocence Project and all these other resources that are out there, but they are all so busy. Unfortunately, in 1985 DNA wasn’t that close to the forefront. The investigation in this murder was so compromised and they weren’t able to do anything with DNA. They threw the word around in court a lot and confused the jury, and that was also against him. There were a lot of things that went wrong.
It’s So Difficult
I think the hardest part, and what I wanted to talk to the listeners about is that there are so many people that are affected when something like this happens. Right down from his wife to his grandkids, to his brothers and sisters, to his cousins and aunts and uncles. It becomes the topic of every conversation, at every Christmas, Thanksgiving, at any family get-together. “How’s your brother?”, and we don’t have anything good to say. He’s just getting through it and so are we. He’s probably the strongest one of all of us because that’s just how he is.
It changes the way people look at your family and changes your whole life. Your world is never the same. Even if he does get out, I will never have the same faith in humanity and roles people play in society and how they stick up for each other and doing the right thing and not just taking the easy way out. I wish people would understand a little bit more that you can’t just judge a book by its’ cover, you can’t judge someone by their past or take things for granted that you read in the paper. It’s unfortunate that I felt so naive before, now I just feel jaded.
I wish he knew more and knew his rights, like he didn’t think it was important to have a lawyer with him at the initial interviews. He just went in head first and didn’t think he had anything to hide. I think that could’ve changed everything for him. When things go farther and farther along it’s more important to know your rights. Like I said, if this could happen to my brother, it could happen to anyone.
This is such a thing that snowballed so far and so fast; it’s just unimaginable. People in my family have been in jail for things that they’ve done wrong and they served their time and gave retribution for whatever they did and rehabilitated themselves. That’s a whole different thing. It is tough, but I think it’s easier to accept and understand and it’s just easier to explain to people than this.
My brother is a very motivated person and a very smart man. He’s working in the law library and writing his own appeals, but a lot of people have drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness and suffering from terrible depression and they don’t have the ability to speak on their own behalf and they don’t know what to do and the prison system is not giving them any direction on what to do. I feel so bad for these guys and especially my brother. A lot of people don’t have the ability to visit him, a lot of people are older and don’t have transportation to go that far, or they’re sick or they have kids. They want to see him, and they want to donate, but just can’t. At first there were a lot of fundraisers and people donated to the cause, but the money runs out and we’re just trying to keep him happy in there. It’s just tough. The letters stop coming in and it’s another Christmas and another birthday. It’s really hard, especially for someone who has never known anyone to go to jail, they would never understand, in my opinion. I’ve tried to explain it to friends and family and they just say things like, “Oh that’s too bad and hope he gets out.” They think if he was innocent he’d be out by now. It’s so complicated.
There’s never any retribution on the prosecutors if they find out later that he is innocent. That’s one flaw in the system that’s really frustrating for me. I just feel that if they had done a better job and had some repercussions if things were to come true and if they were able to prove he was innocent, they would’ve had to have some kind of punishment for pushing him so hard. That was it, they knew what story they wanted to tell. It was so outlandish so many of the things they came up with.
He was at a party that night with 17 people, including my sister, and everybody said that he never left that party. There were Polaroid pictures from the party that night and he was sitting underneath a clock that had the time on it that was around the same time of the murder. Reopening the case will be difficult because now that he’s in there they’ve destroyed the evidence.
I think one of the hardest things is when my brother’s wife is in there and she’s wondering what the rest of her life is going to be like without her husband and praying; my family has always been a religious family and I’m watching them slowly fall apart. It’s hard to have faith when you’re going through something like this. It’s hard to believe every day that the powers of good are going to come through and something is going to come around, we just have to be strong and have faith.
The Most Difficult Things
I think the hardest thing out of all of it was; well actually two things that affected me personally the most. That was when we first found out he was convicted and going to prison. They let my mom, dad, brother, sister, and I sit together in the jail cell and talk for an hour. My mom was already very sick at that time and had to be on oxygen. It was really tough watching that moment; she was basically saying goodbye to her son. It was the hardest moment I’d ever been through.
We found out after the trial was finally over and they were announcing the verdict and I was driving home from the trial that day with my boyfriend. They had moved the trial to another town. We got to where we had cell service again and all of a sudden, I got a text letting me know that there was a verdict. How could I think that it was anything but “Not Guilty”, especially since it had only been about a half-hour. So, we thought for sure it was unanimous. I was so excited, and I was so happy to go driving back up the hill and go running in there and getting him out. There was no doubt in my heart that was the verdict. When we got there, and they told me it was “Guilty”, I had to go home and tell my family that. It was the hardest thing – it was so unbelievable. There were moments when my brother was giving his statement at the sentencing that because this was in 1985, the sentence for murder at that time was 15-18 years, so we were thinking it was going to be that. Then they gave him life in prison without parole. It was just one strike after another. Just having your hopes up and then getting them shot down. It was so terrible. I mean you can’t get over something like that. It just ruins your faith in humanity. It really does.
My brother’s such a good person and so not guilty He would never be able to do something like that. It made no sense to me that this jury didn’t even take any time to listen to the statements that people made. To save time during the trial they were only given written statements and not the audio statements and there was so much audio that should’ve been heard. They didn’t take any time to listen to it. This was the hardest part for me that these people on the jury didn’t give any real attempt. At the trial my sister couldn’t be there for the whole trial, but she was there for a part of it because she was called as a witness. So, we went to lunch and the jury was supposed to be sequestered and they were all there at lunch and reading the paper and talking about it with each other. You could hear this jury asking what each other thought and that’s not legal. It was very sad for my sister and I to watch this. My sister was nervous waiting to see if she was going to have to testify because she is an anxious person anyway and doesn’t like speaking in front of people. The affect it had on her I can’t even begin to explain. She never came back from that, they didn’t give her a chance to testify, and she feels guilty she wasn’t able to help more.
Everyone Deals Differently With Crisis
There were so many things that affected us all. Each person in my family went through it differently. Some stressed out, turned to drugs, or went into denial. I decided to make it my soapbox and fight, and that’s burning me out, too. That’s only something you can do for so long before you again start losing faith. There’s only so much I can do, and only so many times I can tell the story over and over. Every time I tell it, it just brings up so much. People who haven’t been through it just can’t imagine, they just can’t understand it. They can empathize and just think it’s a very sad story and think everything is going to be okay somehow, like we all did. I worry a lot about my dad losing his son that way. (Note: Since this interview Kristal’s dad has passed away.)
My brother is doing his best and doing well. He’s taking it better than any of us, I think. His health is suffering, too. You’re not able to take care of yourself in prison. He can work out here and there, but the food is terrible, healthcare is terrible. I don’t think that people realize how expensive it is, too. It’s $1.00 if I want to send him an email. We bought him a typewriter so he could work on his appeals, and that was $300.00. The paper is ten cents a sheet. Everything adds up.
I worry about his health because of what he’s eating. He was really in shape when he was out. Now he’s gaining a little weight and getting older. He now has ulcers and stomach problems from the stress. Just the toll it takes on everyone is really tough. I don’t think it’s something that people think about until you’re going through a crisis like this. People start getting sick. People start getting depressed.
It’s easy for me to tell someone like my sister-in-law to find support and to be in a support group, but that’s not her thing. So, it’s tough to watch her suffer with her disabilities. Her and my brother really miss each other and it’s really sad. I miss him, too; he was very important to me. He’s my big brother and he took care of me my whole life. We’re best friends and he’s literally the strongest person that I know. He was who I’d go to for advice, but now he’s not here and he’s not out here to see what’s going on. Things are changing. People are growing up and we don’t stay in touch like we would if he was out. The time lost is what I worry about the most. I just don’t want him to see us lose one more family member and have something happen where we don’t have enough time. That’s what worries me is that these appeal dates keep coming past and he needs to resubmit something or misses a deadline. It’s really stressful.
It’s a lot of pressure. It seems like a couple people I know have a similar situation. They have someone in prison that was the patriarch or matriarch and it changes the family dynamics. It’s almost like a death, and you make a new reality. They haven’t passed away, you can still talk to them, but it’s so frustrating. They’re not that far away from you, but they can’t do anything. It’s a strange loss that so hard to explain. There are some days when I just miss him so bad. I’m just his little sister, I can’t imagine what his wife and kids are going through. It’s their dad. They’re having babies and they want their grandad there. My niece’s youngest daughter didn’t really know her grandad. She was brought to visit him and started coming around to him. When she was about four years old she was leaving and was really upset and wanted to get grandpa out of there. She told them that her grandpa didn’t do what they said he did and was a good man. That really affected my brother and everyone.
I think people need to be more aware and be reminded about how these things happen. I just hope that this doesn’t happen to anybody else. I’d love to talk to more people about their stories and see how they were able to cope with it and be a part of that community and support each other. (Stay tuned for the Prison the Hidden Sentence forum where you can communicate with Kristal and receive and provide support to others.)
I’ve been turning it off for a while and it’s good to talk about it and remember how hard it was. It re-inspires me to do a little bit more for him and see what else is out there. I want to try to find someone to help us with his next appeal before it’s too late.
I’m staying in contact and talking to him as much as possible and writing letters; it’s beautiful to send a hand-written letter. We forget how different it is to write things down on paper. Keeping a journal is a good idea. Time keeps moving and stuff keeps happening so stay in touch with your family. Getting a good support system and staying tight with it. Not pretending like it’s not happening. Still bring it up and talk about it. Be supportive with your loved ones and definitely the person that’s incarcerated. Remember that you have to live your life. I felt really guilty at first that I was out doing these fun things and then I started to talk to my brother about it and he wanted to hear about it. So, communicate with your loved one about what they want to know about and are interested in. For me the best thing is to not act like it’s not happening and to talk about it. Be supportive of each other’s thoughts and if someone is having a bad day, talk about it. Visit and write as much as you can. Don’t be afraid of that person. A few people in my family have decided that it stresses them out to talk to him or to go to the jail because they don’t know what to say. You’d be surprised how easy it is to start talking when you’re having a long visit. At first you don’t think that you have anything to say and the next thing you know the visit is almost over. It’s important to stay positive and supportive of each other.
To learn more about this story you can go to their website: https://jacknissalkeisinnocent.wordpress.com/
John K. Bucher wrote a book, “Murder and Deceit: The Story of Jack Nissalke”, which can be ordered on Amazon.
Prison the Hidden Sentence, Inc. does not pass judgement on Jack Nissalke’s innocence or guilt, nor trying to convince the reader either way. As in all of our stories we respect everyone involved, as they too are living their own story. We are here to give humanity to all people and to give Jack’s sister, Kristal, the opportunity to share her story. Behind every person in prison there is a family that is affected. We support the prison family and not the crime; the prison family includes those on the outside and those on the inside.