Girlfriend shot in head by nurse practitioner and staged scene to appear as suicide: Authorities

A 45-year-old Minnesota man will spend decades in prison for killing his fiancée, shooting her in the head, and then manipulating the scene to look like she shot herself.

Ramsey County District Court Judge DeAnne Hilgers sentenced Matthew Phillip Ecker to 30 years in a state prison for killing Alexandra L. Pennig in 2022, according to court papers examined by Law&Crime.

He was convicted by jury of second-degree murder once.

Former emergency room nurse practitioner Ecker was married with four children. He said Pennig knew about his family and didn’t care, but his wife didn’t know and divorced him, the Pioneer Press said.

The criminal complaint states that St. Paul Police Department officers responded to a 911 call at an apartment complex in the 200 block of Fifth Street East at 2:50 a.m. on Dec. 16, 2022. Ecker said his girlfriend shot herself in the head four minutes earlier.

Investigators found Pennig on her back in the bathroom with a left head gunshot wound.

“A firearm lay on (Pennig’s) chest and her left hand was on top of the gun,” the lawsuit says. Officers found Pennig had little or no hold on the rifle. Otherwise, the handgun was clean. The muzzle tip may have had blood on it. Pennig’s left hand showed no blood.”

Police claimed Pennig’s legs straddled the door, indicating it was open when she was shot.

Ecker said she shot herself minutes earlier, but police found the bathroom blood “dried and coagulated” when they arrived. The bathroom door had a break in the wood near the lock, suggesting someone had broken in.

After two years in an open relationship with Pennig, Ecker said she contacted him on Dec. 15 to come over because she was “being abused by her other boyfriend.” He said Ecker and the other boyfriend fought on Dec. 15 and the other man hit Ecker in the face.

Ecker and Pennig clashed when they arrived home, so Ecker went for a stroll to calm down, but things worsened when he returned. He said Pennig “suddenly” grabbed the revolver from his backpack and locked herself in the bathroom, then heard a gunshot. Ecker said he had to “push the door open” to enter the bathroom—he wasn’t sure if it was locked.

“He said (Pennig) was lying in a pool of blood, and he saw she had shot herself in the head,” the lawsuit says. Ecker said AP was still breathing when he opened the door, so he administered CPR and put pressure on her head. Ecker avoided blood on his hands by washing them in the bathroom sink before calling 911. Officers saw no blood on Ecker’s clothes.”

Authorities said he changed his narrative multiple times about what transpired before and after the shooting. He was unsure where he was when the gun went off, if he gave Pennig CPR, and if he touched the revolver.

Ecker, who stated he was terrified because “it was his gun,” put the revolver back in his backpack after the incident but then put it on Pennig’s chest.

After the report, police said Pennig’s family “confirmed that (she) was right-handed.”

Hilgers said trial evidence contradicted attempts to portray Ecker as sympathetic and loving before sentencing him. She said Ecker was “the man” who shot and killed his girlfriend.

“The man who hid the handgun after the shooting,” she continued. “The man who then coldly calculated to pose Alex after her death to appear to be the gunman.”

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