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Howard scheduled for change of plea in murder conspiracy case, just days before trial

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One of two people who have pleaded not guilty to murder conspiracy in the death of a Bismarck man is scheduled for a change of plea, just days before trial, court documents show.

A judge on Thursday morning signed an order setting a change of plea for Earl Howard, 43. The hearing is at 9 a.m. Friday.

Howard, 43, and Nikkisue Entzel, 40, were arrested nearly two years ago in connection with the late 2019 death of Chad Entzel, 42, Nikkisue's husband. His body was found Jan. 2, 2020, after emergency workers responded to a call of a house fire in northeast Bismarck. An autopsy showed he died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Investigators say the killing stemmed from a love triangle and involved plans to cash in on a life insurance policy.

Howard has dual U.S. and Canada citizenship. He turned himself in and was arrested Jan. 9, 2020, on the Blue Water Bridge connecting Port Huron, Michigan, with Ontario, Canada.

Howard’s attorney, Philip Becher, late Wednesday filed a request to cancel the trial, which is scheduled to start Monday. South Central District Judge Douglas Bahr will decided after the Friday hearing if the trial will be canceled, court records show.

It’s unclear how Howard’s actions will affect Nikkisue Entzel. Her attorney, Justin Balzer, and Becher did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Court documents do not indicate Nikkisue Entzel has applied for a change-of-plea hearing or requested a cancellation of the trial.

Burleigh County State's Attorney Julie Lawyer expects Bahr will order a presentence investigation and schedule Howard's sentencing for a later date. More decisions about Nikkisue Entzel's case will be decided at Howard's change-of-plea hearing and at a pretrial conference Friday afternoon, Lawyer said.

The two suspects are accused of plotting Chad Entzel’s death and trying to start the house on fire in an attempted cover-up, according to earlier testimony from a Burleigh County deputy sheriff. Nikkisue Entzel, of Bismarck, faces murder conspiracy, arson conspiracy and evidence tampering conspiracy charges. Howard, of Bellwood, Ontario, is similarly charged and further accused of arson.

A judge in May dismissed a Class AA murder charge against Howard. Lawyer asked the court to drop the charge, saying in a motion that an evaluation of the firearm did not show evidence as to which defendant allegedly shot Chad Entzel. Without that the state couldn’t corroborate Nikkisue Entzel’s statements to law enforcement that Howard shot Chad Entzel, Lawyer said.

Class AA murder and murder conspiracy both carry the possibility of life in prison without parole. A person sentenced to life with the possibility of parole must serve 30 years before parole can be considered.

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

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