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Attorney asks judge for separate trials in murder, conspiracy case

Attorney asks judge for separate trials in murder, conspiracy case

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An Ontario, Canada, man accused in the death of a Bismarck man last winter wants to be tried separately from his co-defendant.

The criminal backgrounds of Earl Howard and Nikkisue Entzel are different, and trying them together in connection with the death of Chad Entzel, Nikkisue's husband, could create a forced association that would be unfair to Howard and could lead to a mistrial, his attorney argued during a Tuesday hearing.

Burleigh County State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer countered that the argument is full of “a lot of speculation and a lot of guessing.” 

Howard is charged with murder, arson and three conspiracy counts in the death of Chad Entzel, whose body was found Jan. 2 after authorities responded to a house fire northeast of Bismarck. An autopsy showed Entzel died of gunshot wounds.

Nikkisue Entzel is charged with three counts of conspiracy. She and Howard are accused of plotting Chad Entzel's death amid an apparent love triangle and plans to cash in on a life insurance policy, according to earlier testimony in the case from Burleigh County Deputy Sheriff Brian Thompson.

Howard's attorney Philip Becher filed a motion to try the two suspects separately. He told South Central District Judge Douglas Bahr during Tuesday's hearing that Nikkisue Entzel has a criminal history that is significant and Howard has nothing of that sort. Forcing them to stand trial together presents “the opportunity for unfairly impugning him in the eyes of jury,” Becher said.

Nikkisue Entzel in making statements to law enforcement has not only implicated herself but also Howard, Becher contended. The prosecution is minimizing that importance, but Howard is charged with murder based on the woman’s allegations from an affidavit and a preliminary hearing, Becher said. 

“Miss Entzel’s statements really are at the crux of their case,” Becher said.

Information used at the earlier preliminary hearing to establish probable cause might not be used at trial, Lawyer said. She added that the state might not introduce character evidence at trial, and that Nikkisue Entzel’s criminal history is not violent and wouldn’t impugn Howard.

“If it is brought in it’s likely going to be brought in if Miss Entzel testifies,” Lawyer said.

The prosecution would introduce statements Nikkisue Entzel made only against her own interest, and not against Howard, Lawyer said. Those statements can be limited by the court, and if the state intends to introduce certain statements, she would inform the defense and the court prior to trial, Lawyer said. A ruling could be made at that time and the issue of a mistrial avoided.

“I have no desire to try this case more than one time,” Lawyer said.

Bahr said he wanted to research the matter and likely would rule on it sometime next week. He also denied Becher’s request to reduce Howard’s $1 million cash bail.

Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com

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