The state doesn't have enough evidence to prove Earl Howard shot a Bismarck man in 2019 and must dismiss the murder charge against him, the prosecuting attorney said in court documents filed Tuesday.
Other charges including murder conspiracy aren't affected. That count carries the same potential punishment as a murder charge.
Howard in January 2020 was charged with murder and murder conspiracy, arson and arson conspiracy, and evidence tampering in the death of Chad Entzel, 42, of Bismarck. Co-defendant Nikkisue Entzel, 40, Chad Entzel's wife, also was charged with murder conspiracy, arson conspiracy and evidence tampering conspiracy.
Howard and Nikkisue Entzel were arrested in January 2020. Chad Entzel's body was found Jan. 2 when emergency workers responded to a call of a house fire in northeast Bismarck. An autopsy showed he died of gunshot wounds.
An evaluation of the firearm did not reveal evidence as to which defendant shot Chad Entzel, Burleigh County State's Attorney Julie Lawyer said in a motion to dismiss. Without that evidence, the state can't corroborate Nikkisue Entzel's statement that Howard shot Chad Entzel.
"As the state has no evidence other than the co-defendant's statements, the State cannot prove the charge at this time," Lawyer said.
Her motion is accompanied by a proposed order to dismiss the charge. That order was not immediately signed by a judge.
Lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Howard and Nikkisue Entzel are accused of plotting Chad Entzel's death in an apparent love triangle and with plans to cash in on a life insurance policy. Their trial is scheduled to start May 17.
South Central District Judge Douglas Bahr on Tuesday denied a renewed motion by Howard's attorney, Philip Becher, seeking separate trials for the defendants. Becher argued among other things that Nikkisue Entzel could introduce evidence that would be prejudicial to Howard but as a co-defendant she would not be subject to cross-examination. Bahr in July had denied a similar motion. Becher did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
Bahr did not immediately rule on a motion made Monday by Becher and Justin Balzer, attorney for Nikkisue Entzel, to suppress certain evidence they say was improperly gathered. Lawyer disputed those claims, saying investigators correctly filed paperwork and legally gathered cellphone and electronic evidence.
Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or [email protected]
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