Jason Klaus blamed his co-accused Joshua Frank for killing his family and said he had no idea Frank was going to murder them.
Klaus and Frank are on trial in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench each charged with arson and three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Gordon Klaus, Sandra Klaus and Monica Klaus on Dec. 8, 2013.
Klaus was on the stand for three days last week and questioned first by his Calgary lawyer Allan Fay then Joshua Frank’s Calgary defence Tonii Roulston and finally Crown prosecutor Douglas Taylor.
Klaus, under direct examination by his lawyer, told the court that the night of the murders he had eight beers before arriving at the bar, more than a dozen vodka and orange juice at the bar and snorted cocaine at least two times throughout the evening.
“We were all pretty well keeping up with each other drink for drink,” Klaus said of those he was drinking with at the table of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Castor Dec. 7.
Klaus claimed that night him and Frank hatched a plan to steal Jason Klaus’s white pick up truck so that Frank would have a vehicle.
Frank would then have the truck painted a different colour and the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) changed. Klaus farms would collect the insurance money.
“I thought it was my truck and it wasn’t that big of a deal. It would be my truck that was being stolen and dad would still get the insurance money and Josh would get a truck. Somewhere in my mind it was a win-win situation.”
Klaus added that he heard, since being in jail awaiting trial, that this type of vehicle theft and VIN changing is a common occurrence.
Klaus said that on the way to the farm Frank mentioned they should steal Klaus’s prized white-tail deer head that was valued at about $200,000 but Klaus told him “no that’s the most stupidest thing I heard.”
Klaus claimed, however, that the plan to steal the white pick up truck went terribly wrong. He said he waited at the end of the long driveway while Frank went to the home to steal the truck but said that Frank took longer than he expected.
Klaus said that when Frank finally drove out of the farmyard he didn’t stop and drove north.
“He goes right by me and doesn’t stop, doesn’t slow down, goes right by me and I’m wondering what the f*** is going on.”
Klaus said he followed Frank and tried phoning him twice on his cell but there was no answer.
“I flashed my headlights at him and tried to get his attention.”
Klaus said he didn’t know where Frank was going and he just kept following him to the bottom of the ski hill near the Battle River where Klaus said Frank ditched the pick up truck and threw the keys into the ditch.
“It didn’t make any sense to me,” Klaus told the court. “I asked him what took you so long at the farm, why did it take three times as long as it should have taken and he said he couldn’t get the truck started and thought he heard a dog bark and said he took cover in a bush and waited.”
Klaus said shortly after 7 a.m., Dec. 8, he got a phone call that his family’s farmhouse was on fire so he rushed over.
“I remember seeing the bubbles of flame coming out of the house and I was screaming, I was hysterical, I felt like throwing up. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Klaus said this is when he started thinking that maybe Joshua Frank had something to do with the fire.
“Going through my head was did somehow Josh have something to do with this,” said Klaus as Frank sat in the prisoner’s box listening and shook his head.
Klaus said he didn’t tell police about his suspicions because he was the one who dropped Frank off at his parent’s farmyard to steal the vehicle and was afraid he would be implicated.
In June 2014, during an undercover RCMP sting, Klaus told undercover officers, who he believed were members of organized crime, that he paid Joshua Frank to shoot his family.
During a police interview following his arrest Aug. 15, 2014, after Klaus was shown a video of his grandparents and cousin pleading with him to tell the truth, Klaus confessed to police that he and Frank intended to steal the trophy deer head but Frank offered to “take care of things” meaning kill his family for him.
“I didn’t flat out ask him but he offered to take care of things,” Klaus said in a police interrogation.
Klaus also claimed, in the August 2014 police interrogation, that at the last minute he changed his mind about having Frank kill his family and ran to the farmhouse but it was too late.
Klaus was then seen in the police video crying and saying he wasn’t a bad guy and his family meant the world to him.
Klaus told the court Nov. 21, 2017, during the trial, that he made this confession at the Red Deer RCMP Detachment in 2014 because he was exhausted and tired of being questioned by the police and claimed that an officer taking him outside for air suggested that he should tell them what they want to hear to end the questioning.
All of Klaus’s interactions with police at the detachment were video and/or audio recorded and the Crown prosecutor pointed out this was never said by police.
Klaus told the court that he confronted Frank days after the murder as they drove to Castor together.
“As we were driving I said ‘look Josh I truly believe you had something to do with the fire whether it was accidental or not you need to tell me.’ At that point he (proceeded) to tell me what happened and that it was an accident.”
Klaus said Frank was initially just going to steal the truck but decided to go into the unlocked farmhouse and steal the prized deer head.
When he tried removing the deer head from the wall he knocked over the Christmas tree, a dog barked and he saw Monica Klaus and shot her.
He said Gordon Klaus then came down the hall carrying a gun so he shot him and then Sandra Klaus.
Klaus admitted that, to support his gambling and cocaine addictions, he forged four to five cheques totaling about seven or eight thousand dollars on the family’s farm account in July or August 2013.
He claimed, however, that he confessed to his family in September 2013, he repaid the money within weeks by giving his dad $4,000 cash and his heifers. He said his family forgave him and didn’t love him any less.
Joshua Frank’s defence Tonii Roulston, however, when questioning Klaus about the forged cheques, produced copies of additional cheques that Klaus wrote forging his dad’s signature. The last one was on Dec. 2, just days before the murders.
From about August to December Klaus forged cheques for more than $15,000.
The court heard that Jason Klaus worked full-time on the family farm and was paid on average about $500 per month.
Klaus denied ever sexually abusing Frank for three years starting when Frank was 14 and Klaus 24.
The trial is expected to wrap up this week.