Joekel found guilty of murder in violent cop shoot-out

Published 5:37 pm Friday, February 7, 2020

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EDGARD – More than seven years after St. John the Baptist Parish deputies Jeremy Triche and Brandon Nielsen were gunned down in an early morning ambush, a Rapides Parish jury has found Kyle David Joekel guilty of two counts of first degree murder.

Joekel is awaiting sentencing. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, which would make Joekel the lone St. John Parish defendant on Louisiana’s death row.

Deliberations began Friday afternoon following lengthy closing arguments in a heavily guarded Edgard courtroom. The defense, headed by Kerry Cuccia, attested Joekel was an innocent bystander to the crimes of Brian Smith, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who was said to have started the shooting on Aug. 16, 2012.

Smith is being held at a state facility to address his mental health needs, and doctors have testified that he is incompetent to stand trial.

During closing statements, Cuccia said there were too many inconsistencies and contradictions in witness testimony to label Joekel guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. He pointed to an absence of shell casings in the area where witnesses saw Joekel aiming an AK-47 down at Nielsen’s body. He also pointed out that Smith’s fingerprints were on a magazine used in the AK-47, as opposed to Joekel’s, and that the officers who testified seeing Joekel reported it was still dark outside during the attacks.

Joekel also testified Thursday that he had never fired the weapon, and that all of the bloodshed that morning was on Smith’s hands.

However, the 12-person jury chose to believe the testimony of four eye witnesses who said Joekel rose from the ground, moved his handcuffs from behind his back to in front of his body, and lifted the AK-47 after Smith had been shot in the foot. Witnesses, including two officers on scene at the time, said Joekel fired the weapon in the direction of Jeremy Triche before shooting Nielsen at point-blank range.

Prosecutors Justin Lacour, Lea Hall and Hugo Holland said Joekel’s actions on Aug. 16, 2012 were not those of an innocent bystander, but of an anti-government extremist. The first shooting of the day began when Smith pulled an AK-47 on officer Michael Scott Boyington from inside a car on Bayou Steel Road in LaPlace.

Joekel was in the vehicle at the time. When the car made it to the Scenic Riverview Trailer Park, Joekel pulled on a hoodie, smoked a cigarette and armed himself with a pistol. It wasn’t long before St. John Parish officers pulled up to the scene, and all hell broke loose.

Joekel’s DNA was found on the AK-47 that left bullet holes in Nielsen’s body. Additionally, Nielsen’s DNA was found near the bottom of Joekel’s pants. One of his boots was discovered by police on the ground, near the AK-47.

“For Mr. Joekel’s story to be true, it would have to be the greatest series of unfortunate coincidences to ever befall one person,” Lacour said.

Judge J. Sterling Snowdy presided over the matter. The trial began last Saturday following several days of jury selection in Alexandria.

The fallen officers’ family members were in the courtroom all week and finally received a bit of closure in a case that has been stretched out for several years.