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News / Northwest

‘You are a remorseless killer,’ judge tells former Idaho State Police trooper who will die in prison for the murder, staged suicide of his wife

By Alexandra Duggan, The Spokesman-Review
Published: May 24, 2024, 7:56am

SPOKANE — Many people experience the aftershocks of infidelity and divorce — but not everyone’s reaction is to murder, First District Judge Lamont Berecz told Daniel Howard right before he sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Howard, a 58-year-old former Idaho State Police trooper, “will die in prison,” Kootenai County Prosecutor Stanley Mortensen said after the sentence was handed down Thursday. Howard was convicted in March of strangling his wife, Kendy Howard, placing her nude body in a bathtub and shooting her through the mouth to make it look like a suicide. She was attempting to divorce Howard, and he discovered she was in a relationship with another man, prompting outrage, jealousy, greed and pride, prosecutors said during trial.

“You didn’t just kill Kendy,” Berecz told Howard directly. “You killed a mother, you killed a grandmother, you killed a sister, you killed a daughter, you killed a co-worker … You killed someone who brought a lot of life and light to those around her and those she touched. You snuffed that out, because of your own pride, greed and anger.”

Howard appeared in court Thursday in a striped jail jumpsuit with disheveled hair and significant weight loss, which was likely caused by starving himself in jail, Mortensen said. Just recently, the sheriff’s office found materials they believed could be used in a suicide attempt in his jail cell, which told prosecutors he was “attempting to escape justice.” He was also arrested at the Spokane International Airport while the trial was ongoing.

Howard has lost 50 pounds since his conviction, Mortensen said, and it’s believed he’s doing it in an attempt to die.

“I stand before you a shell of a man I used to be,” Howard told Berecz shortly before his sentence, as he described how much pain he felt. “I don’t even have a shell left. My wife took her life, and she took my will to live.”

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. 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, Howard said he found Kendy in the upstairs master bathroom tub with a gunshot wound to her mouth. Just days before, he had discovered she was having an affair during the divorce process, witnesses said, and that she was planning to gain half the couple’s assets once it was finalized.

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The night of Kendy Howard’s death, she was alone with Howard 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. The washing machine was running and the wood stove was burning, which threw up “red flags” to investigators. Bruising was found all over Kendy Howard’s body, lacerations were discovered on her feet, and there was a “suspicious” lack of blood at the scene, experts said at trial.

Detectives testified he was crying — without tears.

But Howard told Berecz before his life sentence that regardless of what people think, he is “not that monster” that others have “portrayed” him to be. Rather, he said, he was a distinguished officer with a 20-year career and a decorated Marine, which he asked the court to take into consideration. He said he loved his wife, his stepdaughter and her daughter, and all of Kendy Howard’s family.

Her family members, however, watched from the gallery shaking their heads at every word.

Kendy Howard’s daughter, Brooke Wilkins, told a different story of the man who raised her since she was an infant.

“He makes himself the victim,” she said. “He has no care or regard for how his actions impact others.”

She said her stepfather was emotionally and financially abusive. The night Kendy Howard died, she was afraid her husband would hurt her, Wilkins said.

Kendy Howard had previously woken up to Howard straddling her in bed with a pillow in his hands in what Wilkins believes was a first attempt at murder. Kendy Howard’s family urged her to keep away from home, but she went back.

“I struggle not knowing my mom’s last thoughts,” Wilkins said. “When did she know she wasn’t leaving that house alive?”

When her mother died, Daniel Howard removed money from her bank account and her daughter’s bank account. He turned their cellphone plans off. He even sold her mother’s beloved antiques at a yard sale, she said.

When Wilkins attempted to go to the yard sale and buy her mother’s things, anything she could to “keep as a reminder,” Daniel Howard called the police on her, she told the court. And there were no attempts to contact her after the night of her mother’s death, either.

After reminiscing on how much she missed her mother, Wilkins turned to speak to Daniel Howard directly. He cocked his head to the right and listened as she stared at him and started to speak with no quiver or hesitation in her voice.

“Dan, you may not know … I tried to convince myself you weren’t capable of doing this. I waited for that phone call for you to explain what happened. That didn’t come,” she said. “You look very hard to portray yourself as a great father or a doting husband … What father doesn’t reach out to his daughter while she’s grieving?

“You are not the victim. You deserve to be here today. You deserve to never again live a free life.”

Berecz brought up Daniel Howard’s court appearance that took place 10 years prior in which he was sentenced to probation for malicious injury to property, petty theft, title fraud and failing to tag a deer he shot.

The Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office alleged Daniel Howard confronted and threatened to kill his friend, Matthew Wood, in 2013 after Kendy Howard told him about her relationship with Wood. Daniel Howard later poured syrup in Wood’s vehicles, left him vulgar messages and fired a shotgun at his house, the prosecuting attorney alleged. Daniel Howard admitted to some but not all of those acts, and he agreed to pay restitution to Wood.

The judge at the time said he believed Daniel Howard acted under considerable stress brought about by his return to duty following a 2011 police shooting in which he killed a woman, followed by learning his wife had an affair with his best friend.

“It’s obvious to me that you were not yourself, you were a broken human being. … You rehabilitated yourself. A lesser man could not have done that,” the judge said in 2015, according to previous reporting from The Spokesman-Review. Back then, Daniel Howard told the court that he would forever attempt to “correct these wrongs.”

Berecz read aloud texts sent in 2013 that police collected during their investigation at the time. Daniel Howard sent multiple messages about how Wood is “lucky he’s still breathing” and he understood why men kill their “old ladies.”

Berecz said it was worth noting that he had discussed killing wives, “and 10 years later, you do it.”

He also said the previous reports document Daniel Howard’s ability to fake emotion, which was noted during trial.

“I think there were times you tried to create emotion, but, whatever,” Berecz said. He told Daniel Howard that usually he tries to consider some form of rehabilitation, but because he’s 58 years old, he doesn’t see rehabilitation in his future.

“I don’t know how to say this without sounding mean, but this is who you are,” the judge said. “You are not sorry. And it’s clear to me you are a remorseless killer, and I don’t say that lightly.”

Kendy Howard’s parents said after the sentencing that the punishment is relieving, but it won’t bring their daughter back. They miss her every day, they said, and miss holiday and costume parties that she would throw. They miss how fun she was, how much she loved her family and how excited she was for her new life.

In response to their ex-son-in-law’s comments, Janie Wilkins said, “He was only speaking for himself.

“He’s just a liar,” she added. “Kendy got the last laugh. And he finally got what he deserved.”

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