By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Louisiana state police brought first-degree murder charges on Wednesday against two men being held in connection with a pair of shootings near New Orleans in which two police officers were killed, authorities said.
The new charges mean 24-year-old Brian Lyn Smith and 28-year-old Kyle David Joekel could face the death penalty if convicted of killing deputies Brandon Nielsen, 34, and Jeremy Triche, 27.
The officers were investigating the shooting and wounding of deputy Michael Scott Boyington, 33, at around 5 a.m. on August 16 in a Valero Energy Corp refinery parking lot during a shift change. The shooter fled.
While investigating the shooting in LaPlace, about 25 miles west of New Orleans, Nielsen and Triche ended up at a trailer park. St. John Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre said that as they were interviewing two suspects, a third person came from a trailer and fatally shot the two officers and wounded deputy Jason Triche, 30.
Smith and Joekel were among seven people charged last Friday in connection with the parking lot shooting.
St. John Parish District Attorney Thomas Dailey said in a statement on Thursday that his office would present the new charges against Smith and Joekel to the grand jury. The next regularly scheduled session of the grand jury is September 4.
The charge of murdering a police officer in the performance of duty automatically carries the death penalty under Louisiana law, according to New Orleans criminal defense lawyer Lindsay Larson. Capital cases must go before a grand jury.
The seven people suspected of being involved in the shootings are in custody at the St. Charles Parish Correctional Center. They include Terry Smith, 44, Derrick Smith, 22, Chanel Skains, 37, Brittney Keith, 23, and Teniecha Bright, 21, who face charges as principals or accessories to murder or attempted murder.
Authorities said Joekel was wanted in Kansas and Nebraska in connection with threats against law enforcement officers.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Corrie MacLaggan)