Gunman formally sentenced to death for 2012 officer killings, 3 years after conviction

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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EDGARD — February 9, 2022 marked the three-year anniversary of the day a Rapides Parish jury decided Kyle Joekel would be sentenced to death for the August 2012 murders of St. John the Baptist Parish deputies Jeremy Triche and Brandon Nielsen. On February 10, 2023, Division C Judge J. Sterling Snowdy presided over Joekel’s sentencing inside the Edgard Courthouse.

Snowdy said the three-year span between Joekel’s conviction and his sentencing was a result of delays from the COVID-19 pandemic and “a very extensive motion for a new trial.”

Members of the Nielsen and Triche families were present Friday as Joekel was transported from Angola prison and sentenced to death. In February 2019, the grieving family members listened as eye witnesses recounted the ambush-style storm of gunfire that claimed their loved ones’ lives on August 16, 2012 at the LaPlace Scenic Riverview Trailer Park.

Witnesses stated that Joekel, a member of an anti-government extremist group called the Sovereign Citizens, lifted an assault rifle and fired in the direction of Triche before standing over an injured Nielsen and shooting him at point-blank range. Evidence presented included Joekel’s DNA found on the rifle used in the shooting. Nielsen’s DNA was additionally found near the bottom of Joekel’s pants. The jury deliberated for only one hour at the conclusion of the nine-day trial before delivering a unanimous guilty verdict.

Nielsen was 34 years old when he was killed, and Triche was four days away from turning 28. Both young men were husbands and fathers.

Family members were given an opportunity to speak during Friday’s sentencing. The court heard statements from Nielsen’s family members, including his widow, Daniell Nielsen Jenkins, his cousin, Thom Cameron, and his father, Steve Nielsen, who read a letter written by his sister.

While impact statements are traditionally a means for a judge to factor in a victim’s perspective when handing down a sentence, Snowdy had no discretion when it came to Joekel’s fate.

“In this case, I’ve already received my marching orders from the jury, three years ago,” he said.

The defense indicated that they will appeal the sentencing. Since the death penalty is involved, the appeal involves an extensive review process that bypasses the intermediate appellate process at the Fifth Circuit Court and goes straight to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

There is no timeline on how long the appeal process is expected to last.

Several officers were in the courtroom for the sentencing. Over the past decade, Triche and Nielsen’s brothers in blue have reminded their families that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

The 10th anniversary of the ambush was observed with friends, family and pastalaya at the Lloyd B. Johnson Law Enforcement Training Center this past August.
Daniell Nielsen Jenkins knew she didn’t want the memorial to be too structured or formal. Instead, it was a reminder of what she and her husband enjoyed most during their marriage — getting family and friends together to feed them.

“I just want people to remember. As the department gets bigger and the area gets bigger, I do feel like they kind of get forgotten because there’s new guys coming in who don’t know their story,” Jenkins said. “It was such a huge thing when it happened. It was at the forefront of everything. As much as I hated that, I think I hate the thought of them not being remembered a lot more.”

Jeremy Triche’s mother, Edie Triche, also expressed that her biggest fear is her son being forgotten.

His legacy lives on through the annual Spots and Dots Fishing Tournament, a fundraiser for the Deputy Jeremy Triche Fallen Hero Foundation. The first annual event raised $12,000, while the 2022 tournament raised nearly $50,000 for families of fallen and injured officers across Louisiana.

“People haven’t forgotten. They still remember. It makes my heart proud,” Edie Triche said.