Authorities in Minnesota are investigating the Mother's Day death of Barbara Howard, a 68-year-old woman allegedly attacked by her machete-wielding son in what he claims was a mercy killing, police said.
"Defendant commented that he was tired of his mother having cancer and diabetes and that he was just trying to end her pain and suffering," reads a criminal complaint provided to Huffington Post by the Otter Tail County Attorney's Office.
The investigation into the case began on the evening of April 23, when the victim's son, 46-year-old James Francis Howard, called 911 and said his mother was injured and needed immediate assistance.
"I'm rattled right now. You just need to send somebody, please," he told the 911 dispatcher.
When paramedics arrived at the Howard home in Dalton, a small community located about 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis, they were shocked to discover the extent of the woman's injuries.
"[She] had a deep skull fracture on the left side of her head and ... several of the fingers on her hands had been cut through and were barely attached," Lt. Matt McGuire of the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office wrote in the criminal complaint.
The medics also observed "blood and what appeared to be brain matter" around the back of her head.
The suspect allegedly told police that he used an 18-inch machete to attack his mother.
"[I wanted to] do it quick, with no suffering," James said, according to the criminal complaint.
He also reportedly said his mother had put up her hands in an attempt to deflect some of the blows from the machete.
While treating Barbara, paramedics observed injuries to James' neck. He allegedly stated he had attempted to hang himself and when that did not work, he had cut his throat.
The Howards were transported in separate ambulances to Lake Region Hospital in Fergus Falls, where doctors treated the suspect for the self-inflicted cut to his neck and remained hospitalized for three days. Barbara's injuries proved to be so severe that she had to be flown to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, N.D., where doctors put her on life support and an artificial breathing device.
James was initially charged with first-degree assault for wounding his mother with a "sharp-edged object," but officials later upgraded the charge to first-degree attempted murder, according to the Otter Tail County Attorney's Office.
During the suspect's first court appearance, a judge set his bond at $1 million without conditions or $500,000 with conditions. Pending his next court appearance, he was remanded to the Otter Tail County Jail.
James reportedly has a prior criminal record that includes a recent arrest for three pending felonies.
According to the Fergus Falls Journal, the felony charges stem from a January incident in which the suspect allegedly called a pharmacy and posed as a doctor from a local hospital in an attempt to acquire a prescription for Adderall, a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy.
Unfortunately for James, the pharmacy technician was familiar with the voice of the doctor he reportedly impersonated. The pharmacist contacted police, and James was arrested a short time later. That case is still pending in court, according to the Journal.
On Sunday, while celebrations of mothers and motherhood occurred throughout the world, Barbara succumbed to her injuries and was pronounced dead by doctors.
As of today, authorities were waiting for Barbara's autopsy to be completed so they could determine an official cause of death. Depending on those results, the prosecutor's office may again seek to upgrade the charges against James.
"It is going to depend on what shows up in the autopsy," a spokeswoman for the Otter Tail County Attorney's Office told Weird News.
According to Otter County Sheriff Brian Schlueter, authorities cannot make the decision to upgrade the charges themselves.
"There will have to be a grand jury [indictment]," Schlueter said, citing Minnesota's laws.
If the autopsy reveals Barbara died as a result of the machete attack, the sheriff said officials would likely ask for an indictment for first-degree murder, punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison.
James is currently undergoing a series of court-ordered mental competency examinations to determine if he was mentally ill or deficient at the time of the alleged attack. Officials say they don't buy into his claims of a mercy killing.
"Oh yeah, that is what everybody is saying," the spokeswoman for the Otter Tail County Attorney's Office said. "There are a lot of different ways of doing it than that."
Schlueter added, "[The motive] is a little more complicated, but it will all come out."
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