Sources close to the investigation of Brandon Scott Lavergne in the death of 21-year-old UL Lafayette student Mickey Shunick say Lavergne’s attorneys negotiated a plea bargain with the district attorney’s office that will avoid a lengthy death penalty trial. Instead, the 33-year-old registered sex offender will serve a life sentence for her kidnapping and murder. Shunick's body was discovered in rural Evangeline Parish Tuesday, buried near a small church cemetery located between Reddell and Oakdale.
Any plea agreement would have to be accepted by the district judge assigned to the case.
|Mickey Shunick's alleged killer, Brandon Scott Lavergne, led prosecutors to her body Tuesday and now faces life in prison.|
The Independent has confirmed through multiple sources that the “very credible” tip investigators received about the location of Shunick’s remains came from Lavergne, who for reasons law enforcement won’t disclose was checked out of the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center by the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office Tuesday at 6:40 a.m. and brought back to the facility between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. A “custody form” from LPSO states his check-out time as 6:40 a.m., and LPSO spokesman Kip Judice, who consulted with the deputy who signed Lavergne out, provided the return time to The Independent. “Any destinations beyond LPSO would have to be answered by the Lafayette Police PIO,” Judice says.
“We were with the sheriff’s office when they signed him out,” says Lafayette Police Department spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton. “We worked jointly with them.” Mouton would not say why Lavergne was checked out or whether he was brought to Evangeline Parish Tuesday to assist in the location of Shunick’s remains.
In all likelihood Lavergne’s cooperation was key in the plea negotiation; prosecutors indicated soon after his July arrest that they would seek the death penalty. Prior to the discovery of Shunick’s body — forensic evidence is still being processed to make a positive identification and determine the cause of death — legal experts The Independent consulted believed Lavergne might avoid a death penalty trial if he cooperated by telling investigators where to find her remains.
Sources say that Shunick’s family was consulted during the plea bargaining process, but the family has not confirmed its involvement.
“To my knowledge, no plea bargain has been arranged,” Shunick’s father, Tom, told The Independent through Margaret Bearb, a friend of the family who often spoke to the media on behalf of the search operation.
The Independent was unable to determine what the potential guilty plea in the Shunick case will mean for the other murder charge Lavergne faces — the 1999 killing of 35-year-old Lisa Pate. Prosecutors dropped a bombshell July 5 when they successfully secured a first-degree murder indictment against Lavergne for Pate’s death — who like Shunick disappeared without a trace — while also indicting him for the aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder of Shunick. District Attorney Mike Harson told The Daily Advertiser in late July that it was likely the cases would be tried together, which also may indicate that a deal was worked out for both murders.
Lafayette criminal defense attorney William Goode, who is not involved in either of these cases, says if a plea bargain for a life sentence was struck, it could cover any additional crimes Lavergne may be linked to down the road. Goode notes that as part of a potential plea bargain, Lavergne may have agreed to two life sentences that would run consecutively. "I would try to get the state to let this be the end of it," the attorney says. "In other words, if they determine there is something else out there he would already be in jail for life."
|Prosecutors allege Lavergne also killed Lisa Pate, who like Shunick disappeared without a trace in 1999.|
Lavergne’s defense attorney, Burleigh Doga, declined comment for this story, as did Assistant District Attorney Keith Stutes, the lead prosecutor in the Shunick and Pate cases.
The pain from the loss of their beloved Mickey its own life sentence, the Shunick family — while it will likely avoid the years-long agony associated with a death penalty case — is just beginning its mourning process. “Reality hits hard,” Bearb says.