The state’s case against Brandon Scott Lavergne took a strange turn Tuesday when the lead prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Keith Stutes, asked the court for an evidentiary hearing “limited to the perpetuation of testimony.” It remains a mystery whose testimony the state is seeking Friday at 10 a.m. — so much so that at least one local defense attorney is perplexed by the move itself — as the only summons issued by the court are for Lavergne, Stutes and Lavergne’s attorneys. The state could call another witness, but that’s not what appears to be going on here.
Perpetuation of testimony is a mechanism for preserving a witness’ testimony, which might otherwise be lost before the trial begins. For example, if a witness is ill and might not make it to trial, his testimony can be taken before the trial starts. But in the case of 33-year-old Lavergne — who was indicted July 18 for killing UL Lafayette student Mickey Shunick and, in a surprise move by the prosecution, also indicted for murdering Lisa Pate in 1999 — no one is expecting a trial. Sources close to the investigation say the state has already cut a deal with Lavergne to switch his not guilty plea to guilty in the Shunick case. As part of the plea agreement, Lavergne, who was let out of jail for nine hours last Tuesday, led authorities to Shunick’s remains in Evangeline Parish (Stutes said in court Aug. 17 that Lavergne pointed out on an aerial map where to find the body). After Lavergne was indicted, the state said it was going to seek the death penalty, but Lavergne’s cooperation spared him a lengthy death penalty trial, according to our sources; instead, he faces life in prison for the kidnapping and murder of Shunick.
|Registered sex offender Brandon Scott Lavergne is expected to take the witness stand Friday morning, according to sources close to the investigation of the Shunick murder. Lavergne was indicted in July for kidnapping and killing the UL student in May.|
Sources close to the investigation who asked not to be identified tell The Independent it is the registered sex offender himself Stutes wants to put on the stand. The prosecution and defense teams have been very tight-lipped about the case, neither denying nor confirming the plea agreement. The only way Lavergne would take the stand — he is expected to confess to killing Shunick — is if an agreement has been reached, but it would still be an unusual occurrence.
It’s unclear what kind of plea agreement was struck in the Pate case.
“They used the language perpetuation of testimony, and that means under oath and testifying from the stand,” says longtime Lafayette criminal defense attorney William Goode, who is not involved in the Shunick and Pate cases. “In my way of thinking, that’s what that means,” he says, noting that it would be unusual for Lavergne to take the stand. "If they just want to memorialize what he had to say under oath they could do that in the privacy of a room by deposition. He would be sworn in and recorded.”
When a judge is asked to approve a plea agreement, the defendant does not typically take the stand. “In court the defendant stands there with his lawyer and they discuss what the plea agreement is. The court has to have a factual basis for a plea. And then the court finds there is factual basis, of course [the judge] asks the guy questions about waiving all his rights, right to trial, that the defendant knowingly and intelligently waives his constitutional rights and is competent to do so, and based on that he accepts the plea. Usually [the defendant and attorney] are standing up with a microphone to do that. But they don’t put them on the stand and ask them a bunch of questions.
“It’s very curious. It really is,” Goode adds. “The whole motion that they filed is just kind of different.”
It’s also rather uncommon that neither side is willing to confirm whether an agreement was struck. “This is just speculation, but maybe there are some aspects of this case involving other possible victims. I just don’t know,” Goode says. “I don’t know the intricacies of what’s going on behind the scenes.”
Without a doubt, legal experts say, the high profile aspect of the crime has both sides working hard to preserve the integrity of the case. “It could just be that until it’s done they don’t want to talk about it. This is pretty sensitive, powerful stuff we’re talking about here. The girl, all the press, who she is and the way this whole thing happened makes this a real sensitive, high profile matter that should be handled with extreme care. I think that’s why they just want to be quiet about it.”
In other new developments potentially related to Lavergne, KATC is reporting on the case of a 16-year-old girl missing since April 2010 in Harris County, Texas. Witnesses said about the time Ali Lowitzer disappeared a girl matching her description was seen talking to a man driving a white truck. KATC points out that Lavergne has a sister in Montgomery County, Texas, which is just north of Harris County (our sources say his sister is a key witness in the Shunick case and has been very cooperative).
The missing girl’s family initially agreed to be interviewed by the station but now says authorities have asked her to keep quiet while they investigate. Read the story here.