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North Dakota Capitol to be used as courtroom for 2 trials

May 11, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The House chamber at the North Dakota Capitol will be used as a courtroom for a pair of high-profile criminal trials, in part to ensure social distancing, an official said Tuesday.

The two trials had been scheduled in courthouses in Burleigh and Morton counties, one beginning next week. Court officials asked to use the space at the Capitol and state officials obliged, said John Bjornson, who heads the Legislative Council.

“This is a deal where they just needed more room,” Bjornson said. “They needed additional space to allow distancing of the jury.”

Bjornson said Rep. Chet Pollert, the House majority leader, gave the final approval to use the chamber, which is home to 94 representatives during a Legislative session. The Legislature adjourned on April 29.

Bjornson said no state money is being used to accommodate the trials. The state Highway Patrol provides security at the Capitol, and sheriff’s deputies will provide additional manpower while the trials are in progress, Bjornson said.

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The balcony of the House chamber can accommodate a few dozen spectators, and the trials are open to the public, Bjornson said.

The trial of two people charged with killing a Bismarck man last year is scheduled to begin Monday.

Earl Howard, 42, and Nikkisue Entzel, the victim’s 40-year-old wife, are charged with murder conspiracy, arson and arson conspiracy, and evidence tampering in the death of 42-year-old Chad Entzel, of Bismarck.

Authorities have said they started planning Chad Entzel’s demise a month before it happened, and that they had plans to cash in on a life insurance policy.

Each faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Separately, the trial for a man accused of killing four people is set to begin in August at the Capitol.

Isaak, a 46-year-old chiropractor, is accused of killing RJR Maintenance and Management co-owner Robert Fakler, 52; and employees Adam Fuehrer, 42; and William Cobb, 50, and Lois Cobb, 45, who were married. Police have not established a motive for the slaying at the Mandan business on April 1, 2019.

Isaak lived in a mobile home park managed by RJR.

A judge earlier this month allowed the lead defense attorney to withdraw from the case, but the other lawyers working with Chad Isaak must continue to represent him.

The Bismarck Tribune reported that those lawyers filed documents on Tuesday to withdraw from the case or have the trial delayed from the prior June 7 court date. The court agreed to delay until August.