The veteran prosecutor, immensely respected among his peers throughout the justice system, is retiring effective Friday.Keith Stutes, the lead prosecutor in the Mickey Shunick case, confirmed to IND Monthly Tuesday that he is retiring after 28 years with the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. His retirement comes less than a month after successfully negotiating the plea deal that sent Brandon Scott Lavergne to prison for the first-degree murders of Shunick in May of this year and Lisa Pate in 1999. Perhaps the most effectively orchestrated prosecution ever handled by the local DA’s office, Lavergne’s plea agreement was reached just 20 days after Stutes and his co-prosecutors secured an indictment for the two murders.
One case, in particular, sticks with him to this day. He says an innocent young man was presumed guilty by many in the community for nearly two decades. The young man’s grandmother, Yolanda Theriot, was raped and murdered in her home in 1985, and he was charged with the crime, the trial ending in a hung jury. Stutes did not prosecute that case but did step in many years later when DNA evidence linked an unknown suspect to the murder. Stutes won a conviction. “Handling that case produced one of the most rewarding results,” Stutes says.
It finally exonerated her grandson, but a lot of damage had already been done, he says. “It was a hung jury, so it wasn’t a not-guilty verdict [for the grandson]. There were many people in the family and the community who said, ‘He did do it, he just got away with it.’ It was a terrible burden for him to carry. It was justice in arriving at a verdict against the real [killer], but it was as much justice for him, a vindication for him.
“I’ve tried 125 cases in my career, about a third to a half have been murder trials and rape trials,” continues Stutes. “To a certain extent they have all been rewarding in the results, but in that particular case, had the grandson been convicted, he would have served 20 years in prison by the time the DNA evidence would have freed him.”
There have also been some firsts in Stutes’ career that involved very complex prosecutions: The 1998 conviction of Dr. Richard Schmidt for attempted second-degree murder was the first time in forensic history that viral DNA was used to prove a link between two people with HIV at trial in a criminal case. In 1994, Schmidt used a sample of blood taken from one of his AIDS-infected patients and injected it into his girlfriend. Observers say Stutes was brilliant in the courtroom; Schmidt is serving a 50-year sentence.
The Shunick case is another that was particularly wrenching, Stutes says. Before Lavergne was brought into the courtroom Aug. 17 to enter his guilty plea and explain how he killed the young UL student, the prosecutor went over to Shunick’s parents, who were seated in the front row. “They choked me up,” says Stutes, the father of two daughters and grandfather of three, one 5-year-old and two 2-year-olds. “This could have been anybody.”
Stutes will keep his law practice going, plans to spend his time with his family and will continue teaching criminal justice at UL Lafayette. He also volunteers with the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, chairing a hearing committee, and is an excellent photographer.
Would he, like so many before him, turn to criminal defense work?
"The joke was I’m only going to specialize in representing the absolutely, positively, not-guilty, innocent defendants," Stutes says. "I don’t anticipate I’d have a lot of business.”
That’s what Lafayette Parish has obtained in Pentagon surplus since 2006.
Qualifying continues through Friday.
The political tilt of the Senate during President Barack Obama's final two years in office is likely to hinge on a handful of female contenders in tight and costly races.
A former BP executive will be allowed to travel to the United Kingdom later this month while he awaits trial on charges relating to an investigation of the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
South Koreans defend ramen; special forces had failed to find James Foley; Vegas lures LGBT tourists and more national and international news for Thursday, August 21, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
Friends and family will celebrate Spider's life in September.
Saints safety Jairus Byrd has rarely been so eager to hit and be hit, if only to reassure himself that his surgically repaired back is as healed as doctors believe.
Jindal privatized nearly all the LSU hospitals without waiting for federal officials to sign off on financing arrangements that rely on millions of federal Medicaid dollars.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her main Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy, verbally sparred as they officially signed up on the opening day of qualifying for Louisiana's November election.
Superintendent tells crowd he'd just emerged from a four-hour meeting with the attorney hired to investigate him.
The start of the three-day qualifying period for November’s elections has so far yielded 10 official bids and one new announcement from candidates seeking a seat on the school board.
It’s been just over four months since attorney Barry Domingue committed suicide the morning before he was to stand trial for a second day in the federal Curious Goods case, leaving his fellow attorney/co-defendant Daniel Stanford with a temporary mistrial and awaiting his day in court.
Candidates for Louisiana's Nov. 4 election must officially sign up for the ballot this week.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's effort to derail Louisiana's use of the Common Core education standards was halted Tuesday by a state judge who said the governor's actions were harmful to parents, teachers and students.
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram isn't letting a humbling start to his pro career lower his opinion of what he can still accomplish in the NFL.
Visualize Lafayette’s next great thing from 3,000 feet.
A Baton Rouge judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday against enforcing a law that prohibits anyone 70 or older from running for justice of the peace or constable.
Gov. Bobby Jindal believes the last-minute passage of a pension hike for his state police superintendent, Col. Mike Edmonson, was improperly handled, according to the governor's office.
As the courts hash out the attempts to preserve and shelve Common Core in Louisiana, a group of six state lawmakers are planning an Aug. 22 trip to Oklahoma to meet with their counterparts and strategize for the 2015 regular session.
While hopes are high for turnout this fall, a new report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate suggests that Louisiana's midterm face-offs may amount to nothing special in terms of votes cast.
The attorney hired by the Lafayette Parish School Board for a special investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper has submitted his final report, though it may be another week before the findings are made public.
The Tea Party of Louisiana is calling Sen. David Vitter a “turncoat” for his newfound embrace of Common Core educational standards.
An annual report evaluating Gov. Bobby Jindal's privatization of Medicaid lacked important financial information and presented rosy performance reviews not corroborated by data, according to a review released Monday.
Lafayette attorney Michelle Meaux-Breaux has announced her plans to seek the Division E seat for judge in the 15th Judicial District.