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Fergus Falls man charged with killing girlfriend at her St. Paul apartment

Matthew Phillip Ecker told authorities that she died by suicide, according to a criminal complaint.

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ST. PAUL — A Fergus Falls, Minnesota, man has been charged in connection with the fatal shooting of a woman at her downtown St. Paul apartment early Friday, Dec. 16.

Matthew Phillip Ecker, 44, told authorities that his girlfriend — 32-year-old Alexandra L. Pennig — died by suicide in her Lowertown apartment, according to a Monday criminal complaint charging him with second-degree murder. Ecker was detained and interviewed at the scene and subsequently arrested and booked into the Ramsey County Jail on suspicion of murder.

According to the complaint, Ecker called 911 from the apartment at 260 E. Fifth St. around 2:50 a.m. and reported that Pennig had shot herself in the head. He told dispatch that he called four minutes after she pulled the trigger, and that he had a permit to carry a firearm. He met officers in the apartment lobby.

Officers found Pennig lying on her back in the bathroom with a gunshot wound to the left side of her head. She was not breathing, and soon pronounced dead.

Her left hand was on top of a handgun, which was lying on her chest. There was no blood on her hand, and the gun “did not have any blood on its sides and possibly had blood on the tip of the muzzle — otherwise it was remarkably clean,” the complaint states.

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Ecker said Pennig was still breathing when he opened the bathroom door and that he tried to help her using his medical skills; he put pressure on her head and performed CPR. He said he did not have blood on his hands because he washed them in the bathroom sink before he called 911. Officers did not note any blood on Ecker’s clothing or in the sink.

Questioning at police headquarters

Under questioning at police headquarters, Ecker told investigators that he had been in an open relationship with Pennig for two years after meeting her at a Fergus Falls medical clinic where they had worked. He said she knew about Ecker’s wife and four children, and that Pennig was OK with it.

An analysis of Ecker’s phone showed that he had been prescribing Pennig scheduled drugs, including Adderall and diazepam, and helping her pay her rent, according to the complaint.

Ecker said Pennig called him on his way to work in an emergency room in Roseau, Minnesota, and asked him to come see her because she was being physically abused by her other boyfriend.

Ecker said he called his work and said he wasn’t making it and then drove to St. Paul, arriving at Pennig’s apartment around 2 p.m. Thursday. They went to two bars. At the second bar, Pennig learned that her other boyfriend was at Camp Bar.

Ecker said they decided to go to the bar, where the other boyfriend eventually approached them. He said Pennig’s other boyfriend punched him in the face and that security dragged him outside. He said the two of them stayed at the bar for another 45 minutes before returning to her apartment.

Right-handed

Within five minutes, Ecker told police, Pennig walked over to his backpack and grabbed his gun. He said she removed the gun from its holster and put it to her head with her left hand.

“Ecker said it was weird since AP is right-handed,” the complaint states.

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Ecker said Pennig walked backward to the bathroom. He said she told him not to come closer or she would pull the trigger. Ecker said she locked the bathroom door and that he heard a “pop.” He admitted to investigators that he did not perform CPR on her.

Ecker said he took the gun and put it in his suitcase because he got scared of getting in trouble because it was his gun. He said that after going back to the bathroom and looking at Pennig, he grabbed the gun and put it on her chest.

When investigators asked Ecker about Pennig’s left hand being on the gun when officers arrived, he said he didn’t know how it ended up there. Her family later told police that Pennig was right-handed.

Ecker is scheduled to make a first appearance on the charge Tuesday morning.

Ecker works as a nurse practitioner for the Lake Region Healthcare Walk-in Clinic in Fergus Falls. According to a biography on its website, Ecker joined the clinic in March 2020, and had previously worked as a registered nurse in the surgical/trauma/cardiovascular ICU at Mayo Clinic, Saint Marys Campus, in Rochester.

Lake Region Medical Group President Mark Vukonich said in a Monday statement: “This is a private and personal matter for Matt. We withhold any speculation and are focused on securing coverage for his role at the Walk-In Clinic during his absence and maintaining continuity of our services there to ensure our priority of safe, exceptional, and accessible healthcare for our community.”

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