Fergus Falls man charged with murder after reporting St. Paul woman’s death as suicide

A Fergus Falls man is now charged with murder after reporting that his girlfriend had shot herself last week.

Matthew Phillip Ecker, 44, was formally charged Monday with second-degree intentional murder in connection with the death of 32-year-old Alexandra Pennig of St. Paul.

RELATED: St. Paul police: Man in jail ‘on suspicion of murder’ following woman’s death Friday

St. Paul police were called to an apartment near Fifth and Wall streets shortly before 3 a.m. Friday and said a woman had shot herself in the head. There, police found Pennig in a bathroom, not breathing and with a gun on her chest and her left hand on top of the gun. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Court documents state that officers noted the blood in the bathroom was already dried and the bathroom door had split near the lock. Ecker said he called 911 four minutes after she shot herself.

Ecker told officers that he came to visit Pennig, whom he said he had been in an open relationship with for two years because she’d called and said her other boyfriend abused her and she was scared. He added that they’d gone to a few bars earlier in the night and were back at her apartment when she suddenly grabbed his gun from his backpack, ran to the bathroom and shot herself.

However, the criminal complaint states that Ecker then started changing his story about what Pennig did when she grabbed the gun. He said the woman held the gun with her left hand, which he noted was weird because she’s right-handed, which family members later confirmed.

Officers reviewed surveillance footage that showed Ecker and Pennig returning to the apartment at 2:04 a.m., then leaving 20 minutes later and returning another few minutes later. Officers also noted in the complaint that Ecker and Pennig appeared frustrated.

Ecker told police they’d seen Pennig’s other boyfriend at one of the bars and after they returned to the apartment, they’d gotten into a fight and he went on a walk to cool down. Later, the complaint says Ecker told police they were happy when they returned to the apartment and never got into an argument.

The complaint also states that Ecker works at a clinic in the emergency room but said he didn’t know how to help Pennig after she shot herself. Additionally, he claimed he moved the gun after the shooting, washed his hands and didn’t remember putting Pennig’s hand on top of the gun. He added that he was scared of getting in trouble because it was his gun.

A review of his phone showed Ecker had been prescribing Pennig drugs, including Adderall and diazepam. The complaint notes Ecker was helping her pay her rent, despite having a wife and four kids.

He’s scheduled to make his first court appearance Tuesday morning. If convicted, he could face up to 40 years in jail.