When it came to making a scene, Nicole duFresne was an expert. Her budding career as an actress and playwright ensured she was accustomed to having the correct phrase at the ready whenever the pressure was on. Unfortunately, on an evening out with her fiance and a friend or two, summoning the words that would determine her fate on the dangerously true-to-life stage upon which she stood went wrong.
Any aspiring actor or playwright will tell you that New York would appear to be the perfect choice if one’s ambition is to place oneself on the road to success. The city seemed to be treating Nicole duFresne well, as the 28-year-old had two of her plays being performed and boasted several other accomplishments in her chosen profession. However, a 3 am encounter on the street was all it took to snuff out her chances of a future in the city that promised so much.
Nicole duFresne’s Big Dreams
Often, people boast big plans of making their dreams of acting come true. They also do very little to make these ambitions a reality. Nicole duFresne was different. According to Tom Hayes of CBS News, the 28-year-old Minnesota native spent some time in Seattle before moving to New York to ensure a career in show business came to fruition for her. She attended Boston’s Emerson College before becoming a Present Tense Theater Project co-founder. She also performed well and acted with the LAByrinth Theater Co. while writing two plays. Her play entitled “Burning Cage” toured Canada and the US in 2002. The story depicted the brainwashing of two asylum inmates as they were subjected to LSD testing. Another of her plays was entitled “Matter” and described the journey of an individual suffering from amnesia.
Life in New York was right on track for duFresne. Besides she was engaged to be married, working, and actively partnering with her fiance and a close friend in showcasing “Burning Cage.” According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, the actress and playwright supplemented her income with a bartending job in Manhattan. The lifestyle that supported her chosen career path inevitably involved late nights in the city. Reasonable as this seems, one such twilight evening would seal the young woman’s fate and bring the ambitious pursuit of her dreams to an abrupt halt.
Annoyingly Cheerful Nicole duFresne and her Friends
January 27, 2005, at 3 am, duFresne, her fiance, and friends enjoyed a night out on the streets of Manhattan. CBS News reports that a posse of young people confronted them upon leaving a bar. It quickly became apparent that the aggressive group was up to no good. The youths ordered one of the women in duFresne’s party to surrender her handbag. DuFresne was quick to jump to her friend’s defense. “What are you going to do, shoot us?” she asked. Unfortunately, instead of warning the attackers off, her words escalated her swift demise. The situation turned physical when duFresne allegedly shoved one of the opposing group members. She listed ‘stage combat’ on her professional resume as one of her notable skills. On this fateful evening, it proved to be far from an asset.
According to Twin Cities Pioneer Press, further investigation into the sparks that ignited the fatal altercation revealed that it was Fleming’s girlfriend, Ashley Evans, who drew his attention to duFresne and her companions. She found the group’s cheerfulness irritating and intentionally decided to start an argument. As the dreadful outcome showed, Fleming made her wish come true.
Nicole duFresne’s Murder Investigation
Lastly the attackers were taken into police custody, and the investigation began. CBS News records that duFresne’s response to the hold-up is being used as a grave example of how not to react in a dangerous situation. Council spokesman Todd Post stated, “Confronting an attacker is probably the worst thing you can do.” That being said, a statement from duFresne’s fiance to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press defends the young woman’s reactive response. He said the inferences from news sources that duFresne had handled the situation recklessly were wrong. It “was not a dare but an attempt to reason with a man holding a gun,” he said.
According to CBS News, Alfonso E. Lenhardt, president of the nonprofit council, explained the incident:
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly spoke out as well, siding heavily with duFresne as her fiance had with the following statement: “Regardless of what the victim said or did not say, the person responsible for her death is the one who pulled the trigger.”
Fleming’s trial for the murder of duFresne commenced on October 12th, according to the Sun Journal. Fleming refused to enter the courtroom on the day of his trial, so his participation was confined to virtual means as he remained in a separate room.
His fate was sealed, but that scarcely paid for the unnecessary obliteration of a life. The judge described the defendant as a “cold-blooded and thoroughly hateful person.” Even Fleming’s lawyer, Anthony Ricco, could do little to soften the brutality of the act. “[S]hooting a defenseless person is completely inexcusable and unacceptable conduct,” he reportedly said at the trial. As it turned out, he didn’t even fight for a lesser sentence.
The sorrowful unpacking of all that happened the evening of duFresne’s death spanned more than two weeks. From trying to steal the jacket of a young man earlier in the evening to robbing duFresne and her friends to striking duFresne’s fiance with the butt of his gun to the ultimate shooting of an innocent, there was no questioning Fleming’s guilt.
Reaction from Nicole duFresne’s Parents and Fiancé
Nicole DuFresne’s parents opted out of attending the trial. “Not one minute more will I sacrifice to the coward who murdered my first child, the light of my life,” her father, Tom duFresne, reportedly said. The response of duFresne’s heartbroken fiance, Jeffery Sparks, held a similar sentiment. “I don’t hate you. Hating you would be a waste of my energy. I reserve my hate for the gun industry and the politicians who put a gun in the hands of somebody like you… Hope you go away for the rest of your life… I hope you wake up every morning thinking of Nicole. If you do, we’ll have that in common.”
Finally according to a statement recorded by duFresne’s mother, Linda, by the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, she felt that Fleming and Evans were not the only ones destined to pay for the atrocious crime. “Ours is a sentence of life without Nicole,” she said.
The case appeared to be signed and sealed, with Fleming poised to remain permanently behind bars. However, Jennifer Petlz of Silive writes that attempts at exonerating the accused from the severity of his sentence surfaced a few years after the trial. It was only after Rudy Fleming was charged with the cold-blooded murder of Nicole duFresne that he was diagnosed as psychotic. This raised a concerning question: was he mentally capable at his trial? The short answer? Yes, he was.
According to a panel of state Supreme Court Appellate Division judges, the evidence suggested that Fleming exaggerated his illness and symptoms in an attempt to support his appeal. Furthermore, he was deemed “competent” immediately before and after the trial several years earlier. Outrageous claims of seeing a “giant marshmallow man” or “a black-and-white cat skulking around his room” did not sway the appeal in his favor. He even had the gall to claim that there was not sufficient evidence against him to support his life sentence. A dead body was not enough? This argument, too, fell flat.
Though Fleming was not released from his sentence, he was treated at a mental institution while in prison. Whether Fleming’s rehabilitation was fruitful or not, nothing could bring duFresne back. Finally her family, the acting realm, and the world had lost something irreplaceable, dear. Twin Pioneer Press records the grim words of one of her daughter’s college professors upon hearing the news of the actress’ death: “Humanity, not just those who knew her, suffered a great loss when she died.”