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News / Northwest

Attorneys give closing arguments in trial of former Idaho trooper accused of killing his wife

By Emma Epperly, The Spokesman-Review
Published: March 19, 2024, 7:53am

Attorneys delivering closing arguments on Monday gave two very different pictures of not only how Kendy Howard died in 2021, but how the Idaho State Trooper’s wife lived.

Howard, 48, was planning for her future as her marriage to a controlling husband came to an end, prosecutors said in advance of a jury’s convening Tuesday to decide whether he murdered her. She went under contract to buy a new house, began collecting references from her job and talked about opening an antique store like she’d always hoped, prosecutors said.

“Kendy Howard was fun,” said Julia Schoffstall, deputy prosecutor for Kootenai County. “She was communicative and engaged in her life.”

That’s why it was a shock to everyone when she was found dead in her bathtub with a gunshot wound to the head, prosecutors said. Upon closer inspection, though, prosecutors said it’s clear Howard was dead when she was shot in the mouth.

“Kendy Howard did not kill herself, because Kendy Howard was dead when she was shot through the mouth,” Schoffstall said.

Daniel Howard, 58, was indicted by a grand jury on the charge of first-degree murder and one count of battery.

Her husband’s attorney, Jason Johnson, painted a different picture of Kendy Howard.

She was going through a midlife crisis, he said, and having an affair.

“Kendy was leading a secret life, so she wasn’t being honest,” Johnson said.

He argued that her brother and other family members finding out about the affair likely led to her death by suicide.

Final experts testify

Geoffrey Desmoulin, who specializes in forensic engineering and biomechanics, said Monday morning it’s possible from a positioning standpoint that Kendy Howard shot herself.

Desmoulin, the last of the defense experts to testify, was asked to rule out the possibility of suicide but said he found one scenario that biomechanically made sense: Kendy Howard using both hands to hold the gun.

Prosecutors then called Dr. Bill Smock, a police surgeon and director for the Clinical Forensic Medicine Program for the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky, as a rebuttal witness.

Smock reaffirmed his stance that Kendy Howard was dead when she was shot based on the lack of blood, damage to her teeth and evidence of strangulation from bruising.

Smock is among the scientists who disagreed with the testimony of retired Spokane County Medical Examiner John Howard (no relation), who determined Kendy Howard died from the gunshot wound.

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Weekend arrest

Attorneys argued whether or not jurors should be told about the fact that Daniel Howard was arrested at Spokane International Airport over the weekend.

Daniel Howard’s attorney argued he was simply helping a friend drop off a rental car at the airport, forgetting he was not allowed within 2 miles of that location, per his release conditions.

Prosecutors said that it was prime time for Howard to attempt to flee, after they rested their case Friday.

They argued that Howard had attempted to elude deputies who were surveilling him by getting on and off Interstate 90.

They also said the friend he was helping return a vehicle was a witness in the trial. That same friend told police that once Daniel Howard was detained at the airport, he put a handgun under the driver’s seat of Daniel Howard’s car. Prosecutors argued that was unlikely and that the gun was actually Daniel Howard’s.

“It only makes sense that someone who is fleeing is going to want to meet force with force,” Prosecutor Stanley Mortenson said.

Prosecutors also argued that despite continuing to wear his ankle monitor to the airport, cutting off the monitor would be the last step before an escape.

Mortenson motioned to present this information to the jury.

The defense argued that Daniel Howard did not intend to flee, but simply forgot the airport restriction, and therefore violated his bail conditions.

The judge said it’s not clear there was an intent to flee, and so he denied prosecutors’ motion.

Closing arguments

Prosecutors argued there were signs pointing to abuse in the Howards’ relationship. Kendy Howard told friends her husband had assaulted her in July 2020, showing them photos of bruising on her chest.

She declined to report it to police when they were called, prosecutors argued, because her son was present when officers arrived.

Kendy Howard had been talking with friends about leaving her husband. They were supportive, telling her she had somewhere to go.

She met with an attorney and looked at homes with the help of her boyfriend, who was a real estate agent.

In January 2021, there was another incident in which Kendy Howard told friends she awoke to her husband standing over the bed wearing dark clothes with latex gloves on, prosecutors said.

Then in early February, the two began ironing out details of their divorce. On Feb. 2, 2021, Howard called 911 and said his wife was dead, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors argued Daniel Howard was inconsistent in his statements that night. There were also inconsistencies at the scene, prosecutors said. Kendy Howard’s body was cold, but the water in the tub was warm, they said.

Her body was positioned unnaturally, the prosecutor said.

“There are lots things about that scene that cause investigators to say this doesn’t look right,” Schoffstall said.

With his experience as a former Idaho State Trooper, prosecutors argued Daniel Howard was capable of staging the scene.

“Dan Howard was capable of making this murder look like a suicide, at first glance,” she said.

Johnson argued that suicide is often surprising. People react differently to difficult situations, but science doesn’t lie, Johnson said.

“Focus on this case objectively based upon the facts,” Johnson said.

He argued Daniel Howard had never been a detective and therefore didn’t have the skills or training to stage the scene in a way that would be plausible forensically.

Kendy Howard was irate when her affair was discovered, Johnson said. He argued she didn’t want people to think the couple’s divorce was due to her infidelity.

Blood wasn’t found elsewhere in the house, and there weren’t defensive wounds, Johnson said.

Dr. John Howard was the only expert to examine the body in person, and he found the cause of death to be the gunshot wound, Johnson noted.

The defense’s experts said suicide was possible based on testing, which is worth more than a thousand experts, Johnson said.

He finished by noting the state can’t give a blow-by-blow of how Kendy Howard died, before arguing there is reasonable doubt.

In their rebuttal, prosecutors acknowledged they can’t say in exactly what order Kendy Howard received her injuries; only the two people there would know.

But they said it doesn’t fit with the facts presented at trial to believe she was alive when she was shot.

“Is it reasonable to think that Ms. Howard committed suicide?” Schoffstall said. “No, it is not.”

The jury will begin deliberations in the case this morning.