North Dakota jurors have convicted a woman of plotting to kill her husband with the help of her lover. Nikki Sue Melissa Entzel, 39, was found guilty on Tuesday on all charges: a count each of conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit arson, and conspiracy to tamper with physical evidence.
Defense attorney Thomas John Glass pointed out that his client’s co-defendant and lover Earl Howard, 43, did not testify — even though he would have been a key witness for the prosecution’s case.
Glass’s query pointed to a key question unanswered by the prosecution: the state did not name a specific triggerperson.
Howard, who pleaded guilty in February to charges including conspiracy to commit murder, was originally charged as the actual gunman who shot and killed victim Chad Entzel, 42. However, authorities dropped that charge when they could not prove who actually pulled the trigger on the murder weapon.
“Why did they not have the alleged co-conspirator here to testify?” Glass said in closing arguments.
Howard’s plea deal did not include a deal to testify. Generally, cooperation agreements are key caveats in plea deals.
Why didn’t the state call Earl Howard, convicted co-defendant? Prosecutor explained she couldn’t force him to testify because “there’s still that uncharged count of murder..” and therefore she couldn’t force him to testify.
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) October 4, 2022
What prosecutor Julie Ann Lawyer did tell Burleigh County jurors is that surveillance footage at Nikki’s home shows her and Howard arriving on Dec. 30, 2019 at approximately 7 p.m. The duo left at 8:30 p.m., Lawyer said. Nikki set the surveillance camera to privacy mode.
Chad was at a bowling league.
He returned home later that night. Lawyer said that he was shot twice with a shotgun in his bedroom mere hours later during the early morning of Dec. 31.
To cover up what they did, Nikki and Howard tried to make the incident look like a suicide, Lawyer said. They took one of the spent shotgun shells.
“Someone removed it from the scene,” Lawyer said. She told jurors it was never recovered.
Nikki and Howard also tried to set fire to the bedroom by means of a propane heater, the state alleged. The plan did not go as expected because the fire failed to ignite, but Nikki bought time by calling her husband in sick to work, the state continued.
No one would miss Chad until Jan. 2, 2020 because of New Year’s Day, when businesses were closed. Once that time arrived, however, colleagues did express their concerns. They first called Nikki, who said she was too busy to check on her husband. They next called law enforcement, who did not immediately find anything wrong at the home because it was not possible for officers to look into its second-floor windows.
It was Nikki who finally called in Chad’s death that evening by saying there was a possible fire at her home.
911 CALL: #NikkiSueEntzel called 911 on Jan. 2, 2020 to report a fire at her rental home. She tells dispatch her husband’s work sent a text saying he didn’t show up. She went to the house and “it’s too smoky in there. I can’t get in the door..” Nikki appears to become hysterical pic.twitter.com/p46Fx8YNup
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) September 27, 2022
The suspects also left two whiskey bottles in the bedroom to make it look like Chad had been drinking, Lawyer said. Nikki Entzel told investigators later that her husband was a prolific drinker and physically abusive. The prosecution cast doubt on the abuse claims. Chad’s family members, including his mother and a sister, said they did not witness abuse. His sister Lori Kraus said that he would not get intoxicated often, but when he did, he would become giggly.
Nikki said that she was out of the home the last few days because their furnace was not working; instead, she was at a hotel. That hotel room was in Howard’s name, Lawyer said. Meanwhile, Chad’s two sons from a previous relationship were with grandparents in Abeerdeen, South Dakota, for the Christmas break.
Nikki took out a renter’s insurance policy on the home she shared with Chad shortly before the murder, authorities said. Nikki was also the sole beneficiary of a $600,000 life insurance policy Chad purchased in 2018.
The plan was for Nikki and Howard “live happily ever after in Texas,” Lawyer said.
Their “ever after” is going to be behind bars. Howard was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and he must serve at least 85 percent (just over 21 years) of that sentence behind bars before he is eligible for parole.
South Central District Court Judge David Bahr said the family accepted Howard’s plea deal, according to The Bismarck Tribune in February.
Nikki’s sentencing is unscheduled pending the completion of a pre-sentence investigation.
[Screenshot via Law&Crime Network]
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