By Ivy Brown
BISMARCK (Court TV) — A North Dakota woman is seeking to convince a jury she’s innocent of her husband’s death and avoid life in prison.
Nikki Entzel is accused of plotting Chad Entzel’s death to continue a love affair and collect an insurance payout.
The body of Chad Entzel, 42, was discovered in his burning home on Jan. 2, 2020. A propane heater was near the foot of the bed where his body was found, according to an affidavit.
The defendant, who claimed she had been staying in a hotel the past three days, called 911 to report the fire. It was later determined she had been staying at the hotel with her lover, Earl Howard.
An autopsy revealed Chad Entzel died from two gunshot wounds. His body appeared to be in the early stages of decomposition when the home caught fire.
Investigators used surveillance footage and cell phone records to tie Nikki Entzel and Howard to the murder. Nikki Entzel was taken into custody five days after placing the 911 call.
According to an affidavit, Nikki Entzel claimed Howard killed her husband during an argument on Dec. 30. She also claimed she wasn’t in the room when the killing happened. The pair then allegedly spent 3 days trying to cover up the crime.
In Feb. 2022, Howard accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Nikki Entzel is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to tamper with physical evidence.
Jury selection begins Monday, Sept. 26. Court TV will carry the proceedings gavel-to-gavel.
DAILY TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS
DAY 2 – 9/28/22
- The testimony of former Burleigh County Sgt. Aaron Silbernagle took up the entire day as the jury heard about three conversations he had with the defendant, starting with their first on the day she called 911 to report a fire in her home and culminating in her admission to being in the home the night her husband was shot to death.
- Silbernagle’s testimony walked the jury through the defendant’s evolution in the eyes of investigators from the grieving widow of an abusive husband to cheating spouse to alleged coconspirator. The defendant never wavered in her insistence that she had nothing to do with her husband’s death and did not know how it happened — even though she admitted that she was “kind of” relieved that her husband was gone.
- Other particulars of her account eventually unraveled under relentless questioning in her last interview before her arrest, a six-hour interrogation that was edited down to three hours for the jury. It started out slow — and difficult to hear — as the soft-spoken defendant stuck to her story under questioning by Silbernagle:
- She left the house after a fight with her husband over the furnace
- She picked up her belongings from the house the night of December 30 when Chad Entzel was out bowling
- Her friend and former catering client Earl Howard went with her but stayed outside
- She stayed in the hotel through New Year’s Day and went to work on January 2
- She went to check on the house after work on January 2, hours after her husband’s coworkers called her looking for him
- She was planning to move to Texas alone
- Chad Entzel’s death must have been a suicide
- Her resolve started to wither as another officer barged into the interview room and confronted her with purported evidence that allegedly undermined her account:
- She was staying in the same hotel room as Earl Howard
- They both entered the house around 1:10 a.m. the morning of December 31 and stayed there for an hour and 40 minutes
- She tried and failed to out the alarm system into privacy mode
- They returned to the house together around 6:30 a.m. and stayed for ten minutes
- Texts revealed that Howard planned to join her in Texas
- Gunshot wounds reveal Chad Entzel was shot to death
- Key points from the interview:
- She and Howard went to the house to pick up her meds and she got into a fight with Chad
- The men continued fighting after she left the house and sat in the car
- After a gunshot went off, Howard emerged from the home and said “he’s not alive”
- They returned later to set the house on fire. Earl did it.
- Finally, the jury was left with a stunning visual of the defendant trying to wrestle her written confession from Silbernagle’s hands.
DAY 1 – 9/27/22
- Prosecutor Julie Ann Lawyer laid out the state’s case in a succinct 16-minute opening statement. She accused Nikki Entzel of conspiring with her lover, Earl Howard, to kill her husband in a staged suicide and cover it up with two fires. The defense reserved theirs, meaning they will deliver their opening statement at the beginning of their case-in-chief.
- The jury heard from nine witnesses, including police and fire investigators, the victim’s family, and the medical examiner who performed the victim’s autopsy.
- ATF Special Agent Derek Hill offers first glimpse of fire investigation and the clues that pointed to an incendiary (deliberately set) fire.
- Entzel filed a renter’s insurance claim on January 3 in a tearful phone call with a customer service representative. She spoke with a claims adjuster on January 7, telling him that the furnace caused the fire and that she couldn’t bear to return to the home to see if any her items were salvageable. The jury heard all three phone calls and found out that Entzel received a $2,500 advance on her policy plus coverage of her hotel expenses.
- The victim’s mother and sister took the stand