Canadian man sentenced to 25 years for Bismarck love triangle killing

Earl Howard will have to spend at least 21 years in prison, or 85% of his 25-year sentence, before he is eligible for parole. Nikki Entzel pleaded not guilty in the case, and a 10-day jury trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 28 in Bismarck.

A man in an orange jacket and surgical mask looks sits between two people in suits.
Earl Howard, 43, pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy and other charges on Friday, Oct. 23, in South Central District Court in Bismarck.
Tom Stromme / The Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — A 43-year-old man was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Monday, Feb. 14, for his involvement in the death of a Bismarck man two years ago.

South Central District Court Judge David Bahr ordered Canadian resident Earl Howard to serve at least 21 years behind bars as part of an agreement in which he pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy, arson and two other felony charges. Howard will have to spend at least 21 years in prison, or 85% of his 25-year sentence, before he is eligible for parole. He will also receive credit for the approximately two years he already spent in jail.

Howard and Nikki Entzel were arrested two years ago in connection with the death of Chad Entzel, 42, who died in late December of 2019. Nikki Entzel and Chad Entzel were married. Authorities were called to a Bismarck residence on Jan. 2, 2020, in response to a house fire. Inside, they discovered the body of Chad Entzel, who sustained multiple gunshot wounds and whose cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head, an autopsy later found.

Investigators say Nikki Entzel and Howard started two fires in the residence to get rid of evidence connecting them to Chad Entzel's death.

Nikki Entzel, 40, is charged with murder conspiracy, arson conspiracy and evidence tampering for her alleged involvement in her husband's death. She pleaded not guilty, and a 10-day jury trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 28 in Bismarck.


Investigators say the motive for Chad Entzel's killing involved a love triangle and plans to receive his life insurance funds, for which Nikki Entzel was a beneficiary.

In his decision to accept the plea agreement on Monday, Bahr said he believed 25 years was "a significant amount of time," noting Howard would not be eligible for parole until he is about 64 years old. He also said a "significant consideration" is that Chad Entzel's family was supportive of the plea agreement.

"They do support the plea agreement, and it would put at least half of this case behind them where they have some answers, and they don't have the risk of the matter not being resolved with some measure of justice," Bahr said.

Defense attorney Philip Becher said it was noteworthy Howard was "taking responsibility for his role in the situation" and that the 25-year sentence was not a "slap on the wrist." Burleigh County State's Attorney Julie Lawyer said the prosecution felt the plea agreement and prison sentence were acceptable because Howard had no prior criminal record and he was willing to plead guilty.

Howard did not make a statement during the sentencing hearing. However, Chad Entzel's sister and mother made tearful statements about the heavy toll Chad Entzel's death has had on them.

"You have devastated our lives, and my family is past the brink of exhaustion," said Lori Kraus, Chad Entzel's sister, addressing Howard in the courtroom.

Chad Entzel's mother, Deb Entzel, told Howard he created a "wound so deep it will never, ever heal."

"A mother should never outlive their child," she said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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