'She finally wore me down:' Life in prison for man convicted of fatally shooting wife, blowing up home

MADISON — A Wisconsin man accused of fatally shooting his wife and then blowing up his home in September to cover up the killing was sentenced to life in prison Monday.

Steven Pirus, 60, of Madison was sentenced after pleading guilty to first-degree intentional homicide Monday in the death of his wife, 50-year-old Lee Ann Pirus. Her body was found in the wreckage of the couple's home.

When the judge asked him what he did, Pirus replied, "I killed my wife, your honor." Asked whether he did that with intent, Pirus answered, "Yes."

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that other charges, including arson, first-degree reckless endangerment and animal mistreatment, against Pirus were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. But Dane County Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara can consider those charges when he decides when, if ever, Pirus would be eligible for release.

Under Wisconsin law, Pirus cannot be made eligible for release until he has served at least 20 years in prison. Deputy District Attorney Matthew Moeser said he has only agreed not to ask that Pirus never be made eligible.

According to the criminal complaint, Pirus gave several conflicting stories about his wife's death, first telling police that he last saw her alive when he left for work on Sept. 13, the day the house exploded. Then he claimed she killed herself. Eventually he admitted shooting her weeks earlier, but claimed she begged him to do it, the complaint said.

Police and prosecutors alleged that Pirus sent money to a Russian woman seeking to come to the U.S. and also made payments to online dating sites in the months before the blast.

Pirus initially told investigators his wife had a mental health disability but was taking her prescribed medications. He said she had talked about suicide in the past but he was unaware of any attempts. Her psychiatrist told a detective that she denied any suicidal thoughts at her last visit.

The autopsy found Lee Anne Pirus had a gunshot wound in the head that did not appear consistent with suicide.

When the house exploded, four of the Pirus' five pets were killed and some neighboring homes were damaged. Pirus initially told police that he had loosened the gas connection to the clothes dryer and extinguished the pilot light on the water heater, figuring that an explosion would eventually happen. At that point, he said he was trying to cover his wife's suicide.

But later Pirus told police he came home one night to find his wife crying, and she begged him to help her kill herself. He said that she already had a gun.

"She just finally wore me down and she just kept begging and begging and pleading with me to do that," the complaint quoted him as saying.