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North Dakota Woman Found Guilty Of Conspiracy With Her Boyfriend To Murder Her Husband

Prosecutors said Nikki Sue Entzel and her lover, Earl Howard, shot Chad Entzel to death, tried to stage it as a suicide and attempted — unsuccessfully — to set his Bismarck home on fire  for an insurance payout.

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A North Dakota woman accused of having her husband killed and staging his death to look like suicide has been convicted in the case.

Nikki Sue Entzel, 41, was found guilty by a Burleigh County jury on Tuesday for her role in Chad Entzel’s 2019 murder, according to CBS Bismarck affiliate KXMB-TV. Prosecutors said Entzel and her lover, Earl Howard, conspired to kill the 42-year-old victim before attempting to set his Bismarck home on fire in hopes of cashing in on a life insurance policy, among other potential payouts.

It took jurors about two hours to find Entzel guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to tamper with physical evidence.

Howard is currently serving a 25-year sentence after pleading guilty to the same charges — plus arson  — in October 2021.

Prosecutors couldn’t pursue murder charges for Chad Entzel’s homicide because ballistic experts couldn’t conclusively determine who pulled the trigger.

Nikki Entzel Pd

Although Howard had been on the prosecution’s list to testify in his ex-lover's murder trial, he was not called to the stand. According to KXMB-TV, Nikki Entzel's defense called no witnesses at all.

Nikki Entzel allegedly called 911 on the morning of Jan. 2, 2020 to report a possible fire at the victim’s home. When authorities arrived on the scene, they found Chad, naked on his bedroom floor with two shotgun wounds.

A small fire, believed to have been intentionally set, was also found on the basement’s furnace.

Prosecutors said that, in the early morning hours of Dec. 31, 2019, Nikki Entzel and Earl Howard murdered Chad and staged the crime scene to look like a suicide. In her opening arguments, prosecutor Julie Ann Lawyer even claimed the couple took one of the two shell casings from the crime scene.

RELATED: 2 Husbands, 1 Lover Shot Dead: Why A Baltimore Woman Was Labeled A ‘Black Widow’

The pair were also accused of stationing liquor bottles in Chad’s bedroom to align with Nikki’s allegedly false allegations that Chad was a wife-beating alcoholic.

Several friends, colleagues and even Chad’s ex-wife testified that Chad was not a violent person and only drank alcohol on social occasions, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

“We hoped and prayed the jury would see Chad for the guy he was, and not for who she said he was,” said Chad Entzel’s sister, Lori Kraus. “Obviously, that came through loud and clear.”

Prosecutors said that, after Nikki Entzel and Earl Howard killed Chad Entzel, they positioned a propane-fueled space heater near Chad’s bed in hopes that it would catch fire and destroy any physical evidence left behind. When the house failed to catch fire, one or both suspects returned days later to start a second fire atop the basement’s furnace.

Earl Howard Pd

Investigators were wary of the staged suicide immediately, citing the position of the gun and the fact that Chad was shot twice.

Much of the trial focused on surveillance video taken from Chad Entzel’s home in the hours preceding his death, according to NBC Bismarck affiliate KFYR-TV. The footage showed both Nikki Entzel and Earl Howard entering and then leaving the victim’s home while Chad was at a bowling game hours before the murder.

Around the time Chad was believed to have been killed, someone — using Nikki Entzel’s log-in details — turned the security camera off.

“They were there to kill Chad,” Lawyer said in her closing arguments, according to the Tribune.

Four days before the murder, prosecutors noted that Nikki Entzel took out a renter’s insurance policy worth $26,000. She was also the sole beneficiary to Chad’s $600,000 life insurance policy, something about which she inquired within days of her husband’s murder.

Lawyer said it was all an elaborate plan so that Nikki Entzel and Earl Howard could run away together and start a new life in Texas.

“With all the evidence, as it was put together, that made a very compelling case for the jury,” Lawyer said following the verdict.

Entzel had previously proffered Howard as the triggerman but, because the actual shooter couldn’t be determined, jurors were not tasked with determining who actually murdered Chad.

Entzel’s defense attorney, Thomas Glass, also pointed the finger at Howard during his closing arguments, according to the Tribune.

“Where is Earl Howard?” Glass asked jurors. “I’ve never seen him take the stand. Why not? ‘Why?’ is a big question, and it’s unanswered. Unanswered questions raise doubt.”

Following the guilty verdict, Burleigh County Judge Douglas Bahr ordered a pre-sentencing investigation. A sentencing hearing date has yet to be scheduled.

Entzel faces life in prison.

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