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Wendy Reuer, Published June 25 2012

Dalton man takes plea deal in machete attack on mother

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – A Dalton man pleaded guilty Friday to the murder of his 68-year-old mother in a plea agreement that calls for a prison sentence of 34 years and seven months.

James Francis Howard, 47, of Dalton, pleaded guilty Friday in Otter Tail County District Court to second-degree murder. He had been facing a first-degree murder charge, which would have meant life in prison with no chance for parole if he were convicted.

Howard was accused of attacking Barbara Howard, his mother, in April 2011 with a machete in the home where they both lived on Lakeway Golf Course.

According to court records, he fractured her skull with the 18-inch blade and nearly cut off several of her fingers as she fought back.

Two weeks after the attack, she died on Mother’s Day.

Howard called the attack a mercy killing and told paramedics he intended to end his mother’s suffering from cancer and diabetes, said Otter Tail County deputies in police reports.

Prosecutor David Hauser said he agreed to the plea agreement, under which prosecutors agreed to not pursue the first-degree count of murder, which in Minnesota requires a grand jury indictment.

“The 415 months is an aggravated sentence,” Hauser said.

Howard also pleaded guilty to requesting a false prescription, Hauser said.

In addition to the prison term, Hauser said Howard will pay restitution of more than $45,000.

His attorney, public defender James Austad could not be reached for comment Monday.

Howard attempted to kill himself before he was taken to jail, court records show. After ordering mental competency examinations, a judge found Howard competent to stand trial.

A sentencing hearing is set for Aug. 17.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530