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Judge denies request for separate trials in Bismarck slaying

Judge denies request for separate trials in Bismarck slaying

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Two people accused of carrying out a plot to kill a Bismarck man earlier this year will be tried together, a judge has ruled.

Much of 42-year-old Earl Howard's argument for a trial separate from Nikkisue Entzel, 39, is based on speculation about what testimony would be introduced and how a jury might perceive it, South Central District Judge Douglas Bahr said in his ruling denying the motion.

Howard, from Ontario, Canada, is charged with murder, arson and three conspiracy counts in the death of Chad Entzel, Nikkiesue's husband. An autopsy showed Entzel died of gunshot wounds. His body was found Jan. 2 when authorities were called to a house fire northeast of Bismarck.

Nikkisue Entzel is charged with three counts of conspiracy. She and Howard are accused of plotting Chad Entzel’s death in an apparent love triangle and with plans to cash in on a life insurance policy, according to earlier testimony from a Burleigh County deputy sheriff.

Howard’s attorney, Philip Becher, argued that Nikkisue Entzel’s criminal history could impugn Howard by association, that her potential defenses might harm his defenses, and that Becher wouldn’t be able to call her to testify for Howard.

The repeated use of the word “may” in a legal brief supporting the motion for separate trials made Howard’s concern “speculative,” Bahr said in his order. Howard did not provide specific examples of evidence or any details about Nikkisue Entzel’s criminal history that might have been harmful to him. He also did not show that he would be prejudiced by not being able to confront Nikkisue Entzel as a witness, the judge said.

The charges in the case are not complicated and the facts aren’t complex, so “it does not appear that a jury would have difficulty compartmentalizing the evidence against each defendant,” Bahr said.

The two are scheduled for trial in late December. Becher did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Justin Balzer, attorney for Nikkisue Entzel, declined comment.

Separately, Bahr determined that the parties, public, court participants and court personnel are safer from the coronavirus at one trial than they would be if two trials were held.

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

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