In hand-written filings from Angola State Penitentiary, convicted killer Brandon Scott Lavergne lays out his case for vacating his guilty pleas in the murders of Lisa Pate and Mickey Shunick, claiming, in part, that his rights were violated because he couldn't watch TV or read religious material in his first week of confinement in the parish jail.
[Update: Paul Marx, district defender with the 15th Judicial District Public Defender's Office, tells IND Monthly former ADA Stutes did an excellent job on the case and was aggressive in confirming that Lavergne did not suffer from any kind of mental illness. "I believe it's going to stand forever and ever," the public defender says of the dual first-degree murder conviction. "Clients often forget what happens if they were to prevail in post conviction," Marx adds. Should Lavergne get his pleas vacated, he would be returned to Lafayette Parish and the case would start over; he would face the death penalty at trial. "He's got a huge burden," Marx says of Lavergne's claims. Marx says Lavergne's counsel of record, Burleigh Doga and Clay LeJeune, will have no comment on any post-conviction relief matters unless they are ordered to testify in a hearing.]
Former Assistant District Attorney Keith Stutes and current ADA Danny Landry believe they were meticulous in their efforts last year to lawfully secure guilty pleas from Brandon Scott Lavergne in the 1999 murder of Lisa Pate and the May 2012 murder of UL student Mickey Shunick.
The ADAs fully expected he would challenge his conviction, and they were right.
In hand-written December and January filings from Angola State Penitentiary, where Lavergne is serving two life sentences for the brutal killings, Lavergne claims he was abandoned by his attorneys and coerced into pleading guilty. He also alleges law enforcement leaked misleading information to local news outlets that led to a media firestorm, tainting the case and potential jury pool, and that Lafayette Parish was not the proper venue for his indictment in the Pate case.
|Photo by Travis Gauthier|
|Brandon Scott Lavergne, being led into district court on Aug. 24, 2012, where he pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree murder for killing Lisa Pate and Mickey Shunick. Lavergne is asking the court to vacate his guilty pleas.|
The two Aug. 24, 2012, guilty pleas allowed the 34-year-old offshore worker to avoid a death penalty trial.
Lavergne also claims he never kidnapped Shunick, which he says the state cited as the aggravating factor to support its charge of first-degree murder. He says that after he trailed her (there is evidence he did just that while he was on his cell phone calling escort services) and struck her in the early morning hours of May 19, throwing her from her bike, he acted in self-defense because he feared for his life. Using Lavergne's confession to piece together what happened the night he murdered her, prosecutors said in court documents that Shunick was enticed, persuaded or forced into his truck and that Lavergne was in possession of a knife and semi-automatic handgun. In a violent struggle, Lavergne stabbed her at least four times and, believing she was dead, drove to Acadia Parish to bury her. When a slumped over Shunick jumped and stabbed him in the chest, Lavergne put a bullet through her head. Read those details here.
In multiple filings, Lavergne lodges a litany of allegations that he was mistreated and denied his rights by local officials.
|In the opening page of Brandon Scott Lavergne's application for post-conviction relief, the convicted killer claims he acted in self-defense. View the hand-written court documents here.
"The state even used torture in the form of solitary confinement," he writes. "Petitioner was not allowed outside once for recreation the whole time he was in the parish prison even though he was not a disciplinary problem or escape risk. This is a privilege afforded to all other pretrial detainees in the parish prison and proscribed (sic) by federal law."
The registered sex offender also tries to convince the court that the conditions of his confinement were inhumane. "Also for AT LEAST the first 7-10 days of his detention the petitioner was held without writing material, religious material, tooth paste, under clothing, TV, radio, or reading material." And, making matters much worse, he says, he was denied access to his medically prescribed C-PAP machine for his sleep apnea for nearly a month. "Not to mention for the first 2-3 days of his confinement he was stripped naked and placed on suicide watch' without a mattress to lay on even though he had never threaten (sic) to hurt himself. This was psychological torture purposely done," he writes.
Lavergne further claims he was once handcuffed and shackled for several hours without a bathroom or running water and with no place to sit down. He says he requested to use a bathroom times and ultimately had to relieve himself on the floor he was locked in. "Again this was all calculated mind games," he says.
Lavergne says parish officials and social workers told him he would remain in solitary confinement until he went to trial, which would likely be a couple of years. For the first time, Lavergne confirms that a woman (not his fiancee) was pregnant with his child when he writes about the pressure the case brought on his family. He says his fiancee had abandoned him, his family was being harassed and threatened, and his bank assets - including a college fund for his daughter - were illegally seized. Those concerns, along with the "impending birth of his son" caused him to have a mental breakdown that he claims impaired his ability to make rational choices.
Despite his alleged diminished state of mind and insistence of his innocence, Lavergne claims his lawyers, Burleigh Doga and Clay LeJeune, advised him to waive his 5th Amendment rights and speak with police officials. He then alleges they abandoned him during the interrogation. "...[D]uring the interrogation the detectives loaded up the Petitioner handcuffed and shakled [sic] into a city of Lafayette owned police unmarked truck with a video recording system on him at all times and proceeded to drive the Petitioner around Lafayette, Acadia, and Evangeline parishs [sic] retracing the events of the morning of May 19th 2012 and asking the petitioner questions the whole time without his counselors present because, they left."
He further asserts that his lawyers had no intention of mounting a meaningful defense and therefore caused "permanent and irreparable damage" to his capital case.
Doga did not immediately return a phone message left on his cell phone.
In alleging improper venue in the Pate case, Lavergne says the matter should have stayed in Acadia Parish where her body was found and where a grand jury declined to indict him for second-degree murder in 2008. Prosecutors argue that the crime originated in Lafayette, thereby making it proper venue.
Lavergne alleges that the state tainted the grand jury by indicting him for Pate's murder and then asking the same jurors to indict him for Shunick's murder.
District Judge Herman Clause denied Lavergne's application for post-conviction relief, motion for discovery and motion by owner for release of seized property on procedural grounds, saying he had improperly filed. For instance, Lavergne did not use the uniform post-conviction application, Clause writes, and failed to attach a copy of the judgment of conviction and sentence. View the hand-written court documents here.
"If he refiles it, there may be a hearing," Landry tells IND Monthly. If he is granted a hearing, Lavergne is asking the public defender's office to assign him an attorney.
"We anticipated something like this would occur. That's why we were so thorough in the pre-stages of the plea agreement," Landry says. "Anytime somebody receives two life sentences, they have a lot of time on their hands."