A South Carolina man, Lawrence Joseph Florentine, has pleaded guilty to a series of charges in federal court after his wife’s burned body was discovered in a makeshift grave in 2020. The charges against Florentine include interstate domestic violence resulting in death, use of a firearm during a crime of violence to cause death, obstruction of justice, and the use of fire during the commission of a felony.
Nicole Zahnd Florentine’s life came to a tragic end in 2020 when her charred body, bearing a .22 caliber bullet wound to the head, was found. The U.S. Attorney’s Office noted that the couple had a volatile relationship after marrying in 2018, with reports of domestic violence and threats of harm against Nicole.
Nicole had reached out to authorities in York County multiple times, accusing her husband of physical abuse and threats to her life. Although Lawrence had previously been arrested twice on domestic violence charges, one of these charges had been partially dismissed at Nicole’s request.
Tragedy struck on May 23, 2020, when the couple’s home in Rock Hill was destroyed by fire. Text messages and photographs revealed that Florentine intentionally burned Nicole’s belongings and set the property ablaze. He was subsequently charged with arson in state court related to the fire.
Between June 2 and June 11, 2020, the couple traveled together by car and were last known to be in Piedmont, South Carolina. When Nicole’s grandmother stopped hearing from her during the trip, she filed a missing person report.
Nicole’s body was discovered by a groundskeeper at Hill Cemetery in Fredonia, Kentucky, on June 13, 2020. Near the burial site, a gas can was found, but no identification, cell phone, or other personal belongings were recovered.
Surveillance footage and eyewitness reports played a critical role in the investigation. Witnesses reported seeing a car identical to Florentine’s, and a hardware store clerk identified a transaction for a shovel and gas can matching Florentine’s description. Further evidence included the recovery of Nicole’s blood on the rear exterior of Florentine’s abandoned car.
Sometime after June 11, 2020, Florentine fled to Denver, Colorado, where he eventually surrendered to the Denver Police on June 23, 2020. He now faces a life sentence, eight years of supervision, and a fine of up to $250,000 in restitution.
“Domestic violence affects our community in a deep and enduring way,” stated U.S. Attorney Adair Boroughs. “We have a duty to use all the tools at our disposal to ensure victims have a viable path to safety and justice. May we honor Nicole’s memory as we work to address and prevent future domestic violence.”
An obituary for Nicole, who left behind four children, described her as someone with an infectious smile and a heartwarming laugh. The sentencing date for Lawrence Joseph Florentine is yet to be announced, and it will be presided over by U.S. District Judge Donald C. Coggins.
This tragic case serves as a grim reminder of the devastating consequences of domestic violence and highlights the importance of taking action to protect victims and prevent such incidents in the future.