Ruston Daily Leader by Nancy Bergeron
A Choudrant man will spend the rest of his life in prison as a result of pleading guilty to two counts of seconddegree murder.
John Nichols, 74, entered his plea Friday in 3rd Judicial District Court.
Nichols was charged with the double homicide of Anthony Denicola Jr., 46, and Rachel Denicola, 43, the evening of Aug. 14, 2017 in the yard of a house they were renting from Nichols.
After the shooting, Nichols called 911 and told the operator he had just murdered two people and wanted to turn himself in. Nichols has been held in the Lincoln Parish Detention Center since his arrest.
“Are you pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree murder because you are, in fact, guilty of second-degree murder?” Judge Bruce Hampton asked Nichols.
“Yes, sir,” Nichols said.
Second-degree murder is punishable by life in prison at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence. What’s left for Hampton to decide is whether Nichols’ sentences will be concurrent or consecutive.
Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 9.
Nichols was apparently trying to evict the Denicolas from the home, located on La. 33, when the situation turned deadly, Lewis Jones, chief felony prosecutor with the 3rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said.
Nichols told investigators he had rented the house to the Denicolas, and when the lease was up, he asked them to move, but they didn’t. Jones said Nichols said the house was in bad condition and that Nichols said he feared the family might get hurt on the property.
Nichols told deputies that during an argument with the Denicolas, Anthony had cursed and threatened him.
According to investigative reports, the Denicolas were shot after Nichols got a pistol from his camping trailer, in which he was living. Nichols reportedly told deputies that he walked next door and was talking to Rachel Denicola. She asked one of her children to go inside and get Anthony Denicola.
As Anthony walked up to a tent where Rachel and Nichols were seated, Nichols told investigators he stood up and shot the man in the head and then turned the gun on the woman who had started running.
He stated that he shot at her four or five times before she fell. Nichols told investigators that he then went back to Anthony Denicola, who was groaning and breathing hard, and shot him multiple times.
Rachel Denicola was shot four times in the head; Nicholas Denicola, three times, the coroner said.
“How do you plead to the first count of second degree murder?” Hampton asked Nichols.
“Guilty, your honor,” he said.
“How do you plead to the second count of second degree murder?” Hampton asked.
“Guilty, your honor,” Nichols said.
“The court accepts your pleas, Mr. Nichols,” Hampton said. “I find you guilty of two counts of seconddegree murder.”
Hampton stopped Friday’s proceedings early on after Nichols said he wasn’t sure Dwayne Burrell, his count-appointed attorney, had gotten all of the case information from his previous attorneys.
Hampton said he wanted to give Nichols time to meet with Burrell.
Nichols, handcuffed and wearing an orange-and-white striped LPDC jumpsuit, spent most of Friday’s appearance seated in the witness chair so he could better hear Hampton’s questions.
Nichols wears a hearing aid.
“I don’t want you to miss any words,” Hampton said. “This is an important case for Lincoln Parish, for yourself and the victims and the victims’ family.”