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Suspect in alleged Bismarck love triangle slaying going on trial; Entzel accused in husband's death

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Trial starts Monday for a Bismarck woman facing conspiracy charges for murder, arson and tampering with evidence in the 2019 death of her husband in a case authorities allege involves a love triangle and an insurance policy.

Nikkisue Entzel, 41, and a Canadian man, Earl Howard, 43, were accused in early 2020 of plotting the death of Chad Entzel, 42, and attempting to cover it up. Emergency workers found Chad Entzel's body when they responded to a call of a house fire in northeast Bismarck on Jan. 2, 2020. He died of gunshot wounds, an autopsy showed.

Howard about a year ago pleaded guilty to four felonies. South Central District Judge Douglas Douglas Bahr sentenced him to 50 years in prison with 25 years suspended on the most serious charge of murder conspiracy. Howard will have to serve about 21 years before he's eligible for parole. He is on the prosecution’s witness list for Nikkisue Entzel’s trial.

Burleigh County Deputy Sheriff Brian Thompson testified during a hearing early in the case that Nikkisue Entzel and Howard were in a romantic relationship, verified by video and photos provided to law enforcement. Nikkisue Entzel took out a $26,000 renter's insurance policy in the days before Chad Entzel's death, and she tried to collect on the policy soon after he died, the deputy maintained.

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Chad Entzel was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head after a Jan. 2, 2020, house fire at 4900 43rd Ave. NE in Bismarck.

Prosecutors said Nikkisue Entzel told law enforcement Howard shot her husband, but that an evaluation of the firearm didn’t conclude who pulled the trigger. Bahr last May dismissed a murder charge against Howard at the request of Burleigh County State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer.

Nikkisue Entzel was arrested Jan. 7, 2020. Authorities the next day issued an arrest warrant for Howard, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Canada. He turned himself in the following day on the Blue Water Bridge connecting Port Huron, Michigan, with Ontario, Canada.

Bahr in May 2021 granted Nikkisue Entzel's attorney Justin Balzer and Howard's attorney Philip Becher more time to prepare for trial when “significant new evidence” was presented to them. The trial was reset for Oct. 25, 2021, and was to be held in the House chambers of the state Capitol to allow more room for social distancing amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Entzel's trial was delayed until February 2022 after Howard’s guilty plea in October 2021.

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Earl Howard converses with his attorneys during his sentencing in February at the Burleigh County Courthouse for his involvement in the 2020 killing of Chad Entzel in northeast Bismarck. Howard pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy and other charges and will serve at least 21 years in prison.

Balzer in February withdrew as Nikkisue Entzel’s defense attorney, telling Bahr there was “a breakdown in the attorney/client relationship at this point, which I believe leaves me no option but to withdraw.” He told Bahr it was something he wouldn’t do unless he felt “it was absolutely necessary.” Bismarck attorney Thomas Glass took over the case.

Bahr at a Sept. 12 pretrial hearing said he would consider any plea agreement reached fewer than 10 days before the trial but told attorneys it would not be a binding agreement. He added that a plea agreement would not erase the trial dates from the calendar, thereby assuring that the trial would go on if either party backed out of the agreement.

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

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