A Tulane University student accused of accidentally shooting her live-in boyfriend to death while she played with a gun Thursday wiped back tears during her first courtroom appearance Friday.
Magistrate Court Judge Harry Cantrell set bail for 20-year-old Nicole Dukarm at $50,000 on a single count of negligent homicide.
As the young woman sat in an orange Orleans Parish Prison jumpsuit, her attorney, Fred King, called her a model student who was involved in a tragic accident that left her distraught.
“I can’t imagine more of a tragedy,” King said. “How could it be sadder? To be accused of killing someone you love.”
Dukarm called 911 about noon Thursday and claimed that her boyfriend of two years, Alex Przybyl, had accidentally shot himself in the 4200 block of Walmsley Street in Broadmoor.
Przybyl was found lifeless in a bedroom in their apartment with a handgun by his side, according to an arrest warrant. Despite attempts to revive him, the 25-year-old died on the scene from a gunshot wound to his face.
Detectives took Dukarm to the Homicide Section, police said in a warrant, where she gave a statement that Przybyl had shot himself. According to the warrant, “the statement was found to be false.”
Dukarm then confessed, the warrant states, that “she did not know the gun was loaded and accidentally shot her boyfriend.” Within hours, she was booked into Central Lockup on a count of negligent homicide.
Even if Dukarm temporarily flirted with the idea of pinning the death on Przybyl, King said, she should be forgiven, considering the gravity of her situation and her ultimate decision to make a confession.
“How can anyone be more traumatized than the situation she found herself in?” King asked after the hearing. “To me, her honesty would trump any momentary suggestion otherwise.”
King said Dukarm had never before been arrested or charged with a crime. New Orleans Police Department spokesman Tyler Gamble confirmed there was no record of domestic violence involving Dukarm.
Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino said under the state statute, negligent homicide requires prosecutors to prove “gross deviation from the standard of care of a reasonable person.”
“The theory here would be that a reasonable person doesn’t point a gun at anyone, whether it’s loaded or unloaded,” he said.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro could elect to charge Dukarm with negligent homicide or second-degree murder or drop the charge altogether, Ciolino said. The fact that she changed her story under police questioning will be “pertinent” to that decision, he said.
“There are a lot of circumstances we don’t know. Why did she have the gun? Was there a fight?” Ciolino said. “Those are considerations that the DA’s Office is going to have to take into account.”
New Orleans Coroner Jeffrey Rouse said the death is still under investigation. He said a “final manner of death will be assigned after review of all available investigative evidence.”
Negligent homicide carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but a conviction also can result in probation.
Dukarm is a student in Tulane’s School of Public Health with ambitions to become a doctor. A Tulane dean came to the hearing Friday to show support for the student.
King said Dukarm “religiously” volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and has adopted rescue animals.
He also told Cantrell that Dukarm is attending Tulane on a scholarship after graduating from her high school in Buffalo, New York, with honors and comes from a family of modest means. Her mother is a nurse, and her father is a retired mechanic, according to the lawyer.
King said Dukarm’s family is “devastated” by the accusation against her.