LAFAYETTE — Brandon Scott Lavergne will appear before a 15th Judicial District judge July 27 at 9 a.m. for a preliminary examination and bond reduction in connection with his arrest in the May 19 disappearance of Michaela “Mickey” Shunick of Lafayette.
Judge Herman C. Clause signed the order Tuesday afternoon.
Lavergne, 33, of the Lawtell area in St. Landry Parish, is being held without bail at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center on counts of first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette student’s disappearance.
Lavergne’s attorney, Burleigh G. Doga, initially filed the motion Monday afternoon at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse.
Prosecutor Keith Stutes filed an answer to the motion Tuesday, arguing that a grand jury will take up Lavernge’s case on Wednesday, which will essentially serve the same purpose as a preliminary examination.
“Either proceeding provides an inquiry into the legality of defendant’s detention and thereby serves the primary objection of the law,” Stutes wrote, citing existing case law.
The state’s motion says the state is not required to present the same case in different forums at the same time and a delay in the preliminary examination until the grand jury has acted would not be prejudicial to the defendant.
Stutes also noted that District Judge Marilyn Castle has already determined probable cause to support Lavergne’s arrest since she signed off on the issuance of his arrest warrants.
“A delay in the setting of a preliminary examination and reduction of bond is not prejudicial, but rather would be in the proper discretion of the court,” Stutes wrote.
District Attorney Mike Harson said in an email Monday that a preliminary examination or the request for one generally is vacated upon the issuing of a grand jury indictment, “since the indictment generally satisfies the question of probable cause.”
On Tuesday, Harson wrote in an email that Lavergne will not be invited to the grand jury proceeding.
“It’s not unusual, particularly in a first degree murder charge, that the suspect will not be invited to the grand jury and he does not have a right to attend,” Harson wrote.
The 15th Judicial District Public Defender Office has declined to comment on the case.
“We appreciate the public interest in this case and share the concerns of others that in this particular case justice is best served in the court of law, not in the court of public opinion. That is the policy of the Public Defender Office,” District Defender Paul Marx wrote in a memo last week.
Marx said the Public Defender Office and assigned counsel will not comment on evidence, facts or pleadings filed in these types of cases “in the interest of justice.”
Bill Goode, a criminal defense attorney not associated with the case, said a request for a preliminary examination is essentially a way for the defense to put a “full court press on the DA’s office to put up or shut up.
“If you have a case, indict, otherwise we’re going to have a preliminary hearing to find out what evidence you have,” Goode said.
An indictment could also help the District Attorney’s Office should Lavergne come up before a judge seeking a bond reduction, Goode said.
“Without the indictment it puts the defense in a better position to argue that the bond should be reduced because there is no indictment,” Goode said.
Shunick, an animal lover and avid cyclist, was last seen shortly before 2 a.m. leaving a friend’s home on Ryan Street near downtown on a black Schwinn bicycle on her way to her parent’s Governor Miro home about five miles away.
Authorities arrested Lavergne July 5.
Lafayette police have said Lavergne was initially developed as a suspect after investigators received a tip June 14 connecting him to a white Chevrolet Z71 truck seen on surveillance video traveling in the same direction as Shunick near downtown Lafayette.
Lavergne’s truck was reported stolen in Texas and later found burned on May 31, a few days after police released a video image of the vehicle, police have said.
Investigators also have information linking Lavergne to the area under the Interstate 10 Whiskey Bay Bridge where Shunick’s bicycle was found May 26, Police Chief Jim Craft has said.
Last week, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office report said Lavergne checked himself into a hospital there for treatment of stab wounds hours after Shunick’s disappearance. Lavergne told a deputy that he had been robbed and attacked with a knife while at an unknown gas station in an unknown location in the parish, the report said.
Lavergne is a registered sex offender who was released from prison in 2008 after he served eight years on an aggravated oral sexual battery conviction for tying up, blindfolding and then sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman in Evangeline Parish in 1999.
In a related development, Texas Equusearch, a nonprofit mounted search-and-rescue team, has returned to Louisiana to assist Lafayette police as they continue to search for Shunick, said Margaret Bearb, coordinator for the volunteer search headquarters.
Bearb said Texas Equusearch returned to the area last week.
The Associated Press quoted Tim Miller, director of the Houston-based group, as saying that Equusearch and police only want trained professionals involved in the search, not local volunteers, to reduce the risk of compromising important evidence. So far, however, no evidence has been retrieved, Miller said.
Police spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton did not respond to an email or a phone call to his cellphone late Monday evening.
For the latest on the volunteer front, visit the group’s Facebook page at Find Mickey Shunick Now.