BISMARCK — The North Dakota Capitol was supposed to host a murder trial beginning on Monday, May 17, but the proceeding has been postponed.

The trial of Nikki Entzel and Earl Howard is to take place in the state House of Representatives chamber rather than the Burleigh County Courthouse because of the high number of people expected to attend and the need to maintain COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

Each defendant faces charges of conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to tamper with physical evidence in the death of Chad Entzel, Nikki Entzel's husband. Howard is also charged with arson and was initially charged with murder, but that offense was dropped last week.

In a pretrial hearing held over Zoom on Friday, both defendants' attorneys said there was not enough time to interview some of the prosecution's witnesses and dissect video evidence, and requested that the trial be delayed. The defense said they received some evidence and names of witnesses from the prosecution only this week, so they needed more time to do their own interviews and analyses.

Earl Howard
Earl Howard

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Burleigh County District Judge Douglas Bahr reluctantly granted their request.

"I don't feel I have an option. I feel if I don't (delay) it, and I know neither of the defendants want it (delayed) because they're currently in custody, but I feel if I don't there's a risk that they will not have a full and fair trial," Bahr said.

The judge said he did not want the trial delayed because many people with the Burleigh County District Court and at the state Capitol have spent extensive time preparing the House chamber for the trial.

"All their time and efforts I greatly appreciate, but I don't think we have a choice," he said.

Bahr said he wants the trial to begin as soon as possible, but could not say when that will happen because of his scheduled court hearings in other cases and all the trial preparations that will need to be made again.

On Jan. 2, 2020, authorities were called to a structure fire at the Entzel home in rural Bismarck where Chad Entzel was found dead, according to court documents. An autopsy determined that he died of gunshot wounds.

Charges against Nikki Entzel and Howard allege they disabled the security cameras at the Entzel home, intentionally caused the death of Chad Entzel and started a fire to destroy the bedroom or the entire home where Chad Entzel's body was found.

A sheriff's deputy testified that Nikki Entzel and Howard allegedly planned Chad Entzel's killing a month beforehand "in an apparent love triangle," with the goal of collecting money from a life insurance policy, The Associated Press reported.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.