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Dalton man says machete attack meant as mercy killing

James Francis Howard

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. - A man accused of trying to kill his 68-year-old mother told medics he was aiming to end her suffering from cancer and diabetes, police allege in court records.

James Francis Howard, 46, of Dalton, is accused of fracturing his mother's skull with an 18-inch machete and nearly cutting off several of her fingers as she fought back, according to records filed in Otter Tail County District Court.

Howard faces first-degree counts of attempted murder and assault connected to the alleged attack Saturday night on his mother, Barbara Howard, whom he lived with in her home on Lakeway Golf Course.

He tried to kill himself after the alleged assault, 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 on Wednesday, bond for Howard was set at $1 million without conditions or $500,000 with conditions.

Minnesota's sentencing guidelines call for 15 to 20 years on the attempted murder charge if Howard is convicted, depending on his criminal history. The guidelines for first-degree assault range from about seven to 13 years.

Barbara Howard is being treated at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, where she is on life support and an artificial breathing device, Lt. Matt McGuire wrote in the criminal complaint.

While in an ambulance on the way to Lake Region Hospital in Fergus Falls after the incident, Howard is alleged to have said that he wanted to help his mom and "do it quick with no suffering," according to the complaint against him.

Howard also is quoted in the complaint as saying he wanted paramedics to be able to save his mother, but he wanted to be gone by the time they arrived.

Otter Tail County deputies obtained a warrant to search the mother's home early Sunday, about five hours after the attack was reported to authorities.

In addition to the 18-inch machete and two 10-inch knives, authorities seized blood and other biological samples, court records show.