EDGARD, La. (AP) — A man accused of killing two sheriff’s deputies in Louisiana during a bloody gun battle in 2012 was convicted of first-degree murder Friday.
A jury quickly found 35-year-old Kyle Joekel guilty after testimony and final statements in his trial concluded. Jurors will next decide whether to impose a sentence of death or life in prison.
Deputies Brandon Nielsen and Jeremy Triche were killed during the shootout at a trailer park in St. John the Baptist Parish. Two deputies who survived the gunfight testified that they witnessed the shooting.
Prosecutors said Joekel stood over Triche with an AK-47 and shot him at close range. Defense attorneys argued that another man — Brian Smith, who is being held in a mental hospital and has been deemed incompetent for trial — fired the shots.
Joekel and Smith were members of the anti-government extremist group Sovereign Citizens, according to prosecutors.
Brian Smith’s father, Terry Smith, is charged with first-degree murder in the deputies’ deaths but is serving life in prison for rape in an unrelated case. Pleading guilty as accessories years ago in the case, according to an account in The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, were another of Terry Smith’s sons, Derrick Smith; Terry Smith’s wife, Chanel Skains; and Brian Smith’s girlfriend, Britney Keith.
The suspects were arrested after an early morning assault on another deputy, Michael Scott Boyington, led to the deadly shootout in the mobile home park in Laplace, a suburb west of New Orleans. Boyington was shot and wounded at the entrance of a parking lot used by contract workers on a job at a nearby oil refinery. He was working off-duty on a security detail at the lot.