SOUTH CAROLINA -- A man from Rock Hill, South Carolina, faces life in prison after a burned body was found in a "makeshift" grave, according to The United States Attorney's Office.
Officials say an investigation showed that Lawrence Joseph Florentine, 56, and Nicole Zahnd Florentine were in a violent relationship.
According to officials, around the beginning of 2019, law enforcement in York County responded to multiple calls made by Nicole for emergency help. Officials say Nicole reported that Lawrence physically abused her and threatened to kill, burn, and bury her.
Lawrence was arrested twice on domestic violence charges, but one of those was dismissed, according to officials. That charge was dismissed at Nicole's request before her death, officials say.
On May 23, 2020, Lawrence and Nicole's home was destroyed by a fire that he started, officials say. Lawrence sent text messages and videos to Nicole while the home was burning to show that he did it on purpose, according to officials.
Officials say Lawrence was charged with arson in state court in connection with the fire.
In an investigation by the Federal Bureau, Nicole and Lawrence were traveling between North and South Carolina from June 2 to around June 11, 2020, and were last known to be together in Piedmont, South Carolina. No calls to police or for emergency assistance were made by Lawrence during that time, according to officials.
Officials say before the road trip, Nicole kept in contact with her grandmother, but she stopped hearing from Nicole and followed up by filing a missing person report.
On June 13, 2020, a groundskeeper for Hill Cemetery in Fredonia, Kentucky, found what appeared to him to be a makeshift grave, according to officials. Caldwell County Sheriff's Office and the Kentucky State Police responded to the scene and recovered a partially charred woman's body from the grave.
Officials say an autopsy identified the body as Nicole and her manner of death was homicide. According to officials, Nicole's cause of death was a .22 caliber bullet wound to the head.
No identification, cellphone, or other personal belongings were found at the scene but a gas can was recovered from behind a tree near the burial site, officials say.
According to officials, witnesses reported seeing a car matching the description of Lawrence's car around the cemetery before the body was found.
A local hardware store clerk identified the sale transactions for a shovel and a gas can that looks like the same gas can found at the cemetery by a customer who matched Lawrence's description, according to officials.
Surveillance camera footage from a nearby gas station showed Lawrence filling the gas can a short time later, officials say.
Police found a lighter and .22 caliber cartridges in the center console and also found Nicole's blood on the rear exterior of Lawrence's abandoned car, according to officials.
Officials say sometime after June 11, 2020, Lawrence left Kentucky and traveled to Denver, Colorado and on June 23, 2020, he surrendered to Denver Police.
According to officials, Lawrence pleaded guilty in federal court to interstate domestic violence resulting in death, use of a firearm during a crime of violence to cause death, obstruction of justice, and use of fire during the commission of a felony. He now faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000, restitution, and eight years of supervision to follow the term of imprisonment, officials say.
"Domestic violence affects our community in a deep and enduring way," said U.S. Attorney Boroughs. "And we who serve as federal prosecutors for South Carolina have a duty to use all the tools at our disposal-and leverage our partnerships with local law enforcement and prosecutors-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."
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