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Ontario man pleads guilty in murder-arson case in Burleigh County

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 12:25 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - A murder-arson trial that was scheduled for Monday has been canceled after one defendant entered a guilty plea.

Forty-three-year-old Earl Howard of Belwood, Ontario, and 39-year-old Nikki Sue Entzel of Bismarck are charged in connection with the shooting-death of Entzel’s husband, Chad Entzel, and arson of the couple’s home. Both were set to stand trial as co-defendants Monday, but now Howard has changed his plea to guilty on all counts.

Howard and his attorney Richard Sand walked into a Burleigh County courtroom for Howard’s change of plea hearing. The state posed a binding agreement.

“If the court were to forgo a presentence investigation, accept the plea deal today, that would change the way the state would be presenting its case because we would only have one defendant going to trial,” said Burleigh County state’s attorney Julie Lawyer.

Lawyer asked that Howard receive fully suspended sentences for conspiracy to commit arson, arson and conspiracy to tamper with physical evidence. Lawyer also asked that Howard serve 25 years for conspiracy to commit murder and pay restitution for funeral expenses. A murder charge was previously dismissed in May.

“These are all the charges he will face, and we will not be recharging count two [the murder charge],” added Lawyer.

For his guilty plea, Howard admitted to the elements of the crimes outlined in the affidavit, except for the last paragraph that described an argument between Entzel and her husband and Entzel’s description of the acts of arson.

“The court does find a factual basis for pleas of guilty for counts one, three, four and five,” said Judge Douglas Bahr.

Judge Bahr is reviewing Howard’s plea and has ordered a presentence investigation.

Howard’s felony jury trial that was scheduled for Monday has been canceled.

If Judge Bahr does not accept the plea, Howard could still face a jury and potentially life in prison. Entzel was set to stand trial with Howard, but Entzel’s trial will be rescheduled to a later date.

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