Wife’s ‘charred’ body found in makeshift cemetery grave, feds say. Husband gets prison

At a Kentucky cemetery, a groundskeeper discovered a South Carolina woman’s body inside a makeshift grave covered by branches and debris, according to federal court documents.

After the groundskeeper called police, officers found a small can of gas close to the gravesite, behind a tree, that had traces of the woman’s DNA and her husband’s DNA on June 13, 2020, court documents say.

Nicole Zahnd Florentine’s body was “partially charred,” and an autopsy revealed she was shot in the head before she was found dead at Hill Cemetery in Fredonia, according to federal prosecutors.

Lawrence Joseph Florentine, her husband, was located 10 days later in Denver, Colorado, and arrested, prosecutors said. In October, he pleaded guilty in his wife’s death, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, The Herald reported.

Now, a judge has sentenced Florentine, 56, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, to 30 years in prison on charges of interstate domestic violence resulting in death, use of a firearm during a crime of violence, obstruction of justice, and use of fire to commit interstate domestic violence, the attorney’s office announced in an April 10 news release.

Florentine’s defense attorneys didn’t respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News on April 10.

At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Donald C. Coggins Jr. said Florentine “deliberately prevented Nicole’s family from learning of her death and that he deprived them the opportunity to properly mourn her,” the release said.

Prosecutors had hoped for an even lengthier sentence for Florentine, given how he hid his wife’s body in Kentucky and then fled to Colorado, according to the attorney’s office.

The couple were married in 2018, prosecutors said in an earlier release. During their marriage, Florentine was arrested two times on charges of domestic violence, according to prosecutors.

In December 2019, Florentine was accused of physically abusing his wife, who called law enforcement multiple times to report that he had threatened to kill, burn and bury her, prosecutors said.

Remembering Nicole

Nicole Zahnd Florentine was born in Greenville, South Carolina, and died at age 36 on June 7, 2020, according to her obituary.

Described as having “a tender heart,” she “had the most infectious, beautiful smile and a laugh that could make almost anyone laugh along with her,” her obituary says.

She was a mother of four children, a daughter and three sons, according to her obituary. She was survived by her children, her parents, three sisters, her maternal grandparents and a paternal grandmother.

“She wrote everything down and left her children, sisters, parents, and grandparents boxes of letters, journals, and doodles to remember her by,” the obituary says.

‘Senseless murder’

The home where Nicole Zahnd Florentine lived with her husband in Rock Hill burned down May 23, 2020, a few weeks before her body was recovered, according to prosecutors.

As the home burned, Florentine “sent angry text messages and photographs,” indicating he was responsible for the fire “to destroy Nicole’s belongings,” prosecutors said.

The messages to his wife suggested Florentine believed she cheated on him, and the fire was his “revenge,” according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

He’s facing arson charges in state court in connection with the blaze, prosecutors said.

Following the fire, the couple had been driving together in North and South Carolina days before the gruesome discovery at the Kentucky cemetery, according to prosecutors.

Two days before Nicole Zahnd Florentine’s body was found, Florentine bought a gas can and shovel at a Kentucky hardware store on June 11, 2020, prosecutors said. Based on Nicole Zahnd Florentine’s obituary, she had already been dead for several days.

The store’s clerk told investigators Florentine made the purchases after complaining about how the items cost him $21.99, according to prosecutors.

Afterward, surveillance footage showed Florentine filling up the can at a local gas station, prosecutors said.

Ahead of sentencing, Florentine’s defense counsel noted he accepted responsibility “for his criminal actions,” but appeared to suggest his wife was partly to blame for the circumstances leading up to her death in a sentencing memorandum submitted on Florentine’s behalf.

In describing Florentine as a man who was “a successful and well-educated businessman,” his attorneys wrote he had abided by the law his entire life until marrying his wife, according to the sentencing memo.

Florentine’s attorneys wrote federal prosecutors had “crafted a story of a cold-blooded murder and a volatile and violent relationship for which Larry is solely responsible,” and argued “this is not the case.”

After prosecutors said Florentine shot and killed his wife, he got rid of the gun he used, as well as cellphones, identification and personal items to hide evidence while traveling to Colorado, according to authorities.

“Nicole’s senseless murder reminds us that domestic violence can happen to anyone and we all must work to protect and support those experiencing abuse,” U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs said in a statement. “We hope this sentence brings some measure of closure to her loved ones as they remember Nicole.”

If you are experiencing domestic violence and need someone to talk to, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support at 1-800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788.

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