A man convicted of killing his own mother with a machete has died in the Rush City prison in a suspected homicide. 

According to the Minnesota Department of Corrections, James Francis Howard, age 56, was found at approximately 11:30 p.m. on March 21 with severe injuries to his face and head in his cell at the Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF)-Rush City.

 Corrections officers were doing regular rounds when they discovered Howard’s condition. Officers reported that they entered the cell, took Howard’s cellmate into custody and began life-saving measures until paramedics arrived. 

Howard was pronounced dead at 12:20 a.m. on March 22.

Convicted murderer

Howard had been convicted of second-degree murder for killing his 68-year-old mother in 2011 in the town of Dalton in western Minnesota. 

According to Grand Forks Herald (grandforksherald.com) and other sources, in the criminal complaint describing the event Howard attacked his mother with an 18-inch machete. Howard’s mother died of a fractured skull, and several of her fingers were nearly cut off as she fought back.

The criminal complaint also states that after attacking his mother, Howard then tried to kill himself – first by hanging, then by cutting his own throat. He told medics that his mother had cancer and diabetes, and he was trying to end her suffering.

After striking a plea deal with prosecutors to avoid a life sentence, Howard received a 34-year sentence for homicide that began in 2012 with a release date of 2034. 

Investigation underway

Howard’s cellmate, age 29, was serving two sentences for assault that began May 8, 2020 with a release date of May 17, 2021.

The two men were reportedly cellmates within a temporary housing unit, which means they were not actively engaged in employment or programming.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office and the DOC’s Office of Special Investigations are investigating  Howard’s death. Law enforcement states that no additional information will be available until the investigation is complete.

According to the DOC, the last time an incarcerated person died following an altercation with another incarcerated person was in 2013 at the MCF-Oak Park Heights.

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