It was Father’s Day – June 21, 2015 – when Jolene Dufrene received the devastating news that her daughter was found shot to death in the trunk of a burned car in New Orleans East.
More than three years later, Dufrene said she was relieved to make the plea deal with her daughter’s killer Thayon Samson, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Samson, 33, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, second-degree kidnapping, obstruction of justice and solicitation for murder in connection with Lindsay Nichols’ death.
“We just felt it was the best route so it wouldn’t be dragged through the court system forever,” said the Des Allemands mother. “He can’t get out for good behavior. We don’t have to worry about appeals. It’s done. This part is over. This is final and for sure he won’t be out until his 70s.”
Dufrene said Samson knew they didn’t want to go to trial, but they wouldn’t accept his deal for lesser charges.
“I’m at peace with my decision,” she said. “They didn’t force it on me.”
For Nichols’ mother, all these hard years later the case is finally coming to a close.
“I need to put it all behind me and raise him,” Dufrene said of Nichols’ son, Peter.
New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro called the case “one of the most horrific crimes seen in New Orleans in recent years.”
Shortly after Samson’s arrest, Troy Varnado Jr., was also charged in connection with Nichols’ murder. Varnado will stand trial on Sept. 17 on second-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping, obstruction of justice, and accessory after the fact to second-degree murder.
“I’m going to just push it as far away from me as I can,” Dufrene said.
She acknowledged there are hundreds of murder cases in New Orleans, which lengthened the process, and appreciated authorities seeking to keep everything on the books toward prosecuting the two men, but the waiting took a heavy toll on her. There were probably 70 hearings, which she couldn’t attend “to be able to keep my sanity” and because it would have meant “70 times looking at him.”
Samson did not express remorse at killing her daughter, Dufrene said.
The surprise was him accepting the plea deal.
“I really thought he’d do otherwise because he is so arrogant,” she said.
Nichols, a Des Allemands native, had been celebrating her return to Louisiana from a job in Texas on June 20 and was last seen by friends leaving a nightclub on Downman Road around 4 a.m. after she met Samson and got his phone number, according to court records.
Phone records show she tried to call him twice a few minutes later and then called 911 around 4:45 a.m. She told the dispatcher an irate man she’d met that night was standing outside her car aiming a gun at her. The dispatcher’s notes from the call say she could hear a man telling Nichols to open her mouth so he could put a gun in it. This same dispatcher resigned for failing to give this information to police, leaving Dufrene wondering if this would have saved her daughter’s life.
By 7 a.m. that morning, firefighters made the grisly discovery of Nichols’ body shot and burned in the trunk of her Honda Accord at Lake Forest and Michoud boulevards. Witnesses put Samson at the scene standing over the open trunk of this same vehicle.
On July 20, Samson, identified as a barber and exotic dancer from New Orleans east, was booked and charged with second-degree murder and held on $2.5 million bond. Detectives told Dufrene that Samson told officers he lives in the 13000 block of Chateau Court, which is less than a mile from where Nichols’ body was found.
Dufrene said evidence implicated a second man, which led to Varnado’s arrest.
By November of 2015, authorities confiscated a letter addressed to Samson’s brother believed to be written by Samson in jail aimed at eliminating evidence, as well as a witness, in the Nichols case.
This same month, Samson was indicted on the charges, but pleaded not guilty.
In March of 2016, Nichols’ story was featured in the A&E series “The First 48.”
Now, Dufrene wants to complete impact statements and it’s done.
“I want to raise Peter,” Dufrene said. “He’s doing real good. He has a few things now and there, but he talks about good memories.”
Peter has recalled the times he and his mother went to good restaurants, walked in the French Market and shopped together.
Dufrene said he has photographs of his mother in his room and a Teddy bear that both of them had so they could hug their bear in place of each other while she was at work. Peter also has a book with a recording of her voice that he listens to, as well as his mother’s security blanket that she had since she was three years old.
For Dufrene, there are momentos in the living room, like her daughter’s little bug cage, and she’s having a rosary made with flowers from Nichols’ funeral. Her thoughts are solemn as she readies for closure, but it’s a heartbreaking reconciliation.
“My only child is gone and I wanted a little girl,” she said struggling with sorrow. “I know how much she loved Peter and how much he loved her, too.”