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News / Northwest

‘Justice was served’: Former Idaho State Police trooper found guilty of wife’s murder, staging suicide

By Alexandra Duggan, The Spokesman-Review
Published: March 20, 2024, 7:40am

SPOKANE — A Coeur d’Alene jury convicted a former Idaho State Police trooper Tuesday of murdering his wife and staging it to look like a suicide.

As the second-degree murder verdict against Daniel Howard, 58, was read, some of Kendy Howard’s family loudly gasped. Others wiped tears from their eyes. Everyone was met with a hug from one another.

Howard showed little emotion and spoke briefly with his attorney. He voluntarily put his hands behind his back to be led away to the Kootenai County Jail, where he will be held until his May 21 sentencing.

Kootenai County Prosecutor Stanley Mortensen told media outside the federal building in Coeur d’Alene that his team is “satisfied” with the second-degree murder conviction, because it still can result in life in prison under Idaho law. But he said it’s still “hard to take a victory lap.”

“We are here because of a loss of life,” Mortensen said. “Kendy Howard’s family lost a daughter, a sister, a mother and a grandmother.”

He thanked the jury members for their service, adding that the justice system “cannot function” without them and said he hopes the verdict will provide some type of closure for Kendy Howard’s family. They declined to comment on the verdict.

During the nearly three-week trial, Kootenai County prosecutors argued Kendy Howard, 48, was planning for her future at the time of her death while her marriage to a controlling husband was about to end in divorce. She went under contract to buy a new house, began collecting references to apply for a new job and talked about opening an antique store like she’d always hoped, prosecutors said. Her father, Wendell Wilkins, described his daughter as someone who was outgoing, happy and “enjoyed life.”

On Feb. 2, 2021, Kendy Howard was found dead by her husband in the upstairs master bathroom tub with a gunshot wound to her mouth. Just days before, Daniel Howard had discovered she was having an affair during the divorce process, witnesses said, and discovered she was planning to gain half his assets once it was finalized.

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The night of Kendy Howard’s death, it was only her and Daniel Howard alone in their Athol home. He told police he was signing paperwork and that he “heard a thud” but only went upstairs to look nearly two hours later.

That night he was crying, deputies testified, “but no tears were coming out.”

Investigators said they were suspicious of Kendy Howard’s death and that her body looked “abnormal” the way it was positioned in the bathtub. The former Spokane County Medical Examiner initially ruled she had died from the gunshot wound and that her manner of death was “undetermined.” Police and prosecutors weren’t convinced.

Investigators began piecing the puzzle together about Kendy Howard’s death through further examinations of family interviews and autopsy reports, which prosecutors and medical experts said showed frequent inconsistencies. More medical experts and forensic pathologists came to one conclusion: she was not alive when she was shot, but rather asphyxiated and then shot in the mouth afterwards to make it appear she shot and killed herself. Experts testified it’s possible she was suffocated using a neck restraint that police officers have been trained to use in the past.

Daniel Howard was charged with murder in April 2023.

“We don’t take the decision to charge murder lightly,” Mortensen said on Tuesday. “Especially against a former officer… But Daniel Howard murdered his wife.”

Pathologists who testified said Kendy Howard’s body sustained more than 30 bruises the day before or the day of her death, there was a lack of blood at the scene and the blood on her face was pointing in a different direction than her body was lying.

She also remained in close contact with her family, who never believed she had killed herself. Kendy Howard’s daughter, Brooke Wilkins, immediately called her stepfather to accuse him of murdering her mother, which he denied.

On the stand, she referred to him as “the most brutal man” she’d ever known.

Kootenai County Sheriff Robert Norris also spoke outside the courthouse following the verdict. He said the three-year investigation was “done in an outstanding manner.”

“(He) will spend many, many, many years in a lonely existence in a state prison,” Norris said. “…Justice was served.”

Previous arrests

About 10 years ago, Daniel Howard learned his wife had an affair with one of his friends, the Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office said in a 2015 Spokesman-Review story. Daniel Howard then threatened his friend and, later poured syrup in his vehicles, left him vulgar messages and fired a shotgun in his house, the prosecutor’s office alleged. Daniel Howard admitted to some of those acts and agreed to pay restitution.

Investigators also found thousands of rounds of ISP ammunition at Daniel Howard’s Athol residence and said the ammo had disappeared when they returned weeks later with a search warrant. He claimed he kept the ammo at his house for convenience because he was a shooting range officer and lived near the range.

He was sentenced in early 2015 for malicious injury to property, petty theft, title fraud and failing to tag a deer he shot.

First District Court Judge Benjamin Simpson placed Howard on probation and ordered Howard to serve four months in jail and perform 600 hours of community service.

Simpson said he believed Howard acted under stress brought about by his return to duty following a 2011 police shooting in which he killed a woman, followed by Howard learning of his wife’s relationship with his friend.

“It’s obvious to me that you were not yourself, you were a broken human being,” Simpson said previously. “You rehabilitated yourself. A lesser man could not have done that.”

During the weekend of Daniel Howard’s murder trial, he was also arrested at the Spokane International Airport. His attorney Jason Johnson claimed he was helping a friend drop off a rental car and forgot he wasn’t allowed within 2 miles of the airport. Prosecutors said he was attempting to flee right after they rested their case and was eluding deputies who were surveilling him at the time.

After his arrest, a handgun was found under the driver’s seat of the rental car. His friend — who was also a witness at trial — said he put it there. Prosecutors said that was unlikely.

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

Ultimately, it was decided that Daniel Howard’s arrest would not be brought up for the rest of the trial, but it can be brought up during sentencing.

As a former police officer, he will be on suicide watch and monitored 23 hours a day. He faces up to life in prison.