Nicole duFresne (January 5, 1977 – January 27, 2005) was a Minnesota-born playwright and actress. She was murdered on a sidewalk on Manhattan's Lower East Side when seven youths accosted and mugged a group consisting of duFresne, her fiancé Jeffrey Sparks, her close friend Mary Jane Gibson, and Gibson's boyfriend Scott Nath sometime after 3 a.m on January 27, 2005.
Actress and playwright
A graduate of the Perpich Center for Arts Education and Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, duFresne wrote or collaborated on five plays, including the two-woman show Burning Cage. She and Gibson collaborated on both the writing as well as the performances. A show about two women in a Boston asylum who are targeted for clandestine brainwashing experiments with LSD and shock treatments, it was performed at the Seattle Fringe Festival in 2002.
Moving to Brooklyn in 2003, duFresne was a founding member of the Present Tense Theater Project and performed with LAByrinth Theater, Algonquin Productions and Woman Alone Theater Company.
In the early morning hours of January 27, 2005, duFresne, Sparks, Gibson and Nath were returning home from a night of celebratory drinking. DuFresne had just started a new interim job as a bartender at the Rockwood Music Hall. As duFresne's group was walking down bistro-lined Clinton St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a group of five young men and two girls approached them, "spoiling for a fight and looking for victims." The group had already that night mugged a man for his leather jacket and menaced a girl at a subway station. According to testimony by another member of the group, Rudy Fleming stated, "I'd like to bang on these people right here."
Fleming demanded money. Sparks pushed his way past, at which point Fleming swung with both hands, striking him across his left temple with a Taurus .357 magnum, which he had been holding pointed downward at the sidewalk. According to Sparks neither he nor anyone else in the group had realized that Fleming had a gun. Another robber, Servisio Simmons, reportedly said, "It doesn't have to be like this. My friend's buggin'. We just want the money."
Fleming took Gibson's purse and cell phone and gave them to the girls, Ashley Evans and Tatiana McDonald. duFresne turned to Sparks who was dazed and bleeding profusely from his left eye, asking if he was OK. He indicated that he was and said "Let's just go". Nath took Sparks by the arm and they ran away, north on Clinton toward Rivington. Gibson turned to follow.
One witness testified that duFresne confronted Fleming, pushing him. Another witness testified that it was Fleming, rather, who shoved duFresne, and that she never touched him. There was a consensus among witnesses that duFresne challenged Fleming, shouting "What are you still doing here? You got what you wanted. What are you going to do now, shoot us?" According to trial testimony, Fleming and duFresne were then about two feet apart, and "he was so mad, he just lift up the gun and shot at her." Fleming fired once at point blank range, the bullet striking duFresne in the chest and exiting through her back. From further up the block Sparks and Nath ran back, only to find duFresne on her back in the street. She died a few minutes later in Sparks's arms, as Gibson and Nath knelt beside them.
Fleming's trial and sentence
On October 12, 2006, Fleming was found guilty of first degree murder, two counts of robbery, four counts of attempted robbery, and one count of criminal possession of a weapon. Fleming was on parole for pointing a gun at a truancy officer at the time of duFresne's murder.
On December 11, 2006, Fleming was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus an additional 15 years for the robbery committed earlier that night and 15 years for unlawful possession of a weapon.
Fleming appealed on the basis of mental instability and other legal issues raised during the trial. In December 2010, an appeals court found he had been fit for trial and was faking or amplifying his mental illness. The court rebuffed the arguments made on the other legal issues and upheld the conviction.
Fleming's accomplices were charged and tried separately.
On February 27, 2007, Servisio Simmons, a cousin of Fleming who took part in the attack, was sentenced to ten years in prison as part of a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and agreed not to appeal.
On April 26, 2007, Ashley Evans, Fleming's girlfriend and the instigator of the attack, was sentenced to six years in prison as part of a plea deal in which she pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery. Evans reportedly told police that she decided to start a fight with one of the women in the group because they annoyed her by being cheerful and laughing. In court, duFresne's mother forgave Evans but blasted the six-year sentence, telling Evans she will still have most of her life ahead when she emerges from prison, but her daughter is gone forever. Evans, 18 at the time of the attack, was released on parole in 2010.
- The May 8, 2005 episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent entitled "The Unblinking Eye" contained a murder scene similar to duFresne's death.
- The plot of Richard Price's 2008 novel Lush Life revolves around a homicide similar to Nicole duFresne's.
- Wilson, Michael (January 28, 2005). "Actress Killed in Lower East Side Robbery". New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2012.
- Hartocollis, Anemona (October 5, 2006). "Woman’s Defiance Led Mugger to Kill Her, Accomplice Testifies". New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2012.
- Hartocollis, Anemona; Moynihan, Colin (October 12, 2006). "Parolee Convicted of Murdering Actress". New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2008.
- Maull, Samuel (December 11, 2006). "Life sentence in Manhattan slay of actress Nicole duFresne". The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 17, 2008.
- "Conviction upheld in deadly mugging of NYC actress". Associated Press. December 28, 2010. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
- Maull, Samuel (April 26, 2007). "Accomplice gets 6 years in street slaying of actress duFresne". The Daily News. Retrieved March 17, 2008.
- Law & Order episode synopisis at TV.com.