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Mother dies in Fargo hospital after alleged attack by son; prosecutors to decide on new charges

James Francis Howard

FARGO - The 68-year-old mother of a man accused of fracturing her skull with an 18-inch machete has died.

Barbara Howard of Dalton, Minn., died about 5 a.m. Sunday - Mother's Day - at Fargo's Sanford Medical Center, according to the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office.

Her body has been transferred to the Fergus Falls (Minn.) Lake Region Hospital morgue at the request of the Sheriff's Office.

James Francis Howard, 46, has been charged with attempted murder and assault for the April 23 attack. Several of her fingers were nearly cut off as she fought back, according to court records filed in the case.

The mother and son lived together on Lakeway Golf Course. James Howard told medics he was aiming to end her suffering from cancer and diabetes, police records report.

After the alleged assault, James Howard tried to kill himself, first by hanging and then by cutting his throat, Otter Tail County deputies claim in a criminal complaint. He was hospitalized after the incident before being taken to the county jail.

In an initial court appearance, Howard's bond was set at $1 million with-out conditions or $500,000 with conditions.

After being taken to Sanford Medical Center, Barbara Howard was placed on life support and an artificial breathing device, Lt. Matt McGuire wrote in the criminal complaint.

Otter Tail County Attorney David Hauser said prosecutors won't decide whether to file murder charges against Howard until seeing an autopsy report on the mother's death.

If medical examiners determine her death was caused by the injuries her son allegedly inflicted, that will prompt a murder case, Hauser said. An attempted murder charge has already been filed against Howard.

Hauser said he would likely look at convening a grand jury to indict Howard on a count of first-degree murder, if the state filed a murder charge.