Randy Smith

Sheriff Randy Smith provides update on death of Nanette Krentel, the wife of St. Tammany's fire chief. (image via WWL-TV)

The day after Nanette Krentel's death was officially ruled a homicide, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith announced that her husband, District 12 Fire Chief Steve Krentel, has been cleared as a suspect.

Speaking at a brief news conference Thursday morning, Smith said his office was still treating Krentel's death as a homicide case. But he said her husband has been fully cooperative with investigators and has been ruled out as the killer. 

Krentel, 49, was discovered dead on July 14, her body badly burned in a fire that destroyed the couple's home. Only later, on the day of Krentel's memorial service, did the sheriff reveal that  Krentel had been shot. St. Tammany Parish Coroner Dr. Charles Preston has subsequently said she died of a gunshot wound to the head and that no smoke was found in her airways.

After the sheriff's announcement Thursday, Steve Krentel said, "In light of the determination made by the sheriff today, now maybe the case can be solely about Nanette. Not the sheriff, not the coroner, not me. It can focus on her."

Preston's announcement Wednesday that the death was a homicide was followed quickly by a statement from Sheriff Randy Smith that seemed to indicate disagreement. Smith's office sent out an email announcing the news conference Thursday in which he promised to provide an update on the status of the investigation. "At this time, the Sheriff’s Office investigation does not necessarily support the coroner’s conclusion in this case," the email said.

But on Thursday, Smith, who was flanked by St. Tammany Parish Coroner Dr. Charles Preston and two representatives of the State Fire Marshal's Office, said that he didn't dispute the coroner's "expert opinion" but had been concerned about the timing of his ruling "because of pending lab results."

The sheriff did not explain what lab results he was referring to, and he took no questions after his brief statement.

Preston's homicide ruling followed two autopsies done by pathologists with his office, a private autopsy by a pathologist hired by Nanette Krentel's father and sister, and reconstruction work of the victim's skull done by the FACES lab at LSU.

He said Wednesday that he was confident in the determination and noted that no soot was found in the victim's airway, a strong argument that she was dead before the fire started.

At Thursday's news conference, Smith said that his office has worked the case "tirelessly and aggressively as a homicide since day one and will continue to do so," adding that detectives will work with the Fire Marshal's Office and Coroner's Office "until all leads are exhausted."

"We will do everything in our power to bring justice for Nanette Krentel and closure to the family," he said.

Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Brant Thompson confirmed Thursday that his office believes that the fire was intentionally set. That is the first time the office has made that statement. But Thompson said he would provide no further details because the investigation is still active.

He echoed comments by Smith that the intensity of the fire is making the investigation difficult. He said his office will continue to work with the Sheriff's Office and Coroner's Office to understand what happened at the Krentels' home.

The lack of an official ruling had been a source of some controversy in the weeks since Nanette Krentel's death, and her father and sisters filed a petition in 22nd Judicial Court for injunctive relief and were granted a temporary restraining order to preserve her remains until the private autopsy could be performed.

That autopsy was conducted this week, and the remains have been released.

That court filing also contained some information that had not been made public by investigators, including that Nanette Krentel's pets also had been shot.

Preston said the necropsies on the animals were conducted by LSU. He said Wednesday that he had received the report on their deaths but declined to discuss the results.

The family also filed a petition on Aug. 29 asking for an order to preserve documents and evidence in the case, naming the Sheriff's Office, the Fire Marshal's Office and five St. Tammany Parish fire districts as defendants. A hearing was held in District Judge Raymond Childress' court Thursday on a preliminary injunction.

Representatives of St. Tammany Fire Protection District Nos. 1, 3, 4, 7 and 12 were in court, although no one appeared from the Fire Marshal's Office, and an attorney for the family said she had not heard from them. The judge ruled that the injunction will remain in place for six months for all the fire districts except No. 4, which did not send any personnel or equipment to the fire

Dan Watson, the dead woman's father, said the family asked for the injunction to ensure that all evidence would be preserved in the case.

This story was altered on Sept. 15, 2017, to reflect that St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith revealed that Nanette Krentel had been shot.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.