“We’re happy he’s (Lavergne) finally been charged and that he’s in jail and off the streets. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Shunick family at this time” Bryant Martie, 22, Lisa Pate’s oldest son
LAFAYETTE — Brandon Scott Lavergne went before an Acadia Parish grand jury in 2008 in connection with the death of Lisa Pate — one of two women he is accused of killing — but the grand jury declined to indict him, records show.
Lavergne’s grand jury appearance in connection with the death of Pate, a Lafayette woman whose remains were found near Church Point in 1999, came shortly before he was scheduled to be released from prison on a sexual assault charge in a separate case.
In an email response Thursday, 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson said it was his understanding that Lavergne “became of interest in 2000” in Pate’s death but said he could not “go into any of the reasons for that.”
A Lafayette Parish grand jury returned indictments Wednesday against Lavergne in Pate’s death and in the disappearance this year of Michaela “Mickey” Shunick.
Lavergne, 33, was booked July 5 on first-degree murder and kidnapping charges in Shunick’s disappearance, but police and prosecutors had made no mention of his possible link to the Pate case before Wednesday’s indictment.
Pate’s remains were discovered Sept. 21, 1999, under some boards behind a home at 2290 Brigman Highway near Church Point in rural Acadia Parish, according to news reports at the time and an Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office incident report.
She had been missing for several months. The indictment on Wednesday listed the date of her killing as July 3, 1999.
Investigators at the time said they suspected foul play.
While no arrests were made, prosecutors asked an Acadia Parish grand jury in April 2008 to consider second-degree murder charges against Lavergne in Pate’s death. However, the grand jury took no action on the case.
According to minutes from the grand jury, the group returned a “pretermit,” meaning no decision was made either to indict or to clear Lavergne on the charge.
Harson, in an email response, said the case was pretermitted “due to the fact that they apparently felt there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant charging him at that time.”
Harson, whose office covers Lafayette, Acadia and Vermilion parishes, said Pate apparently died of asphyxiation.
Pate was the mother of two sons and one daughter.
Her oldest son, Bryant Martie, 22, said in a brief statement Thursday, “We’re happy he’s finally been charged and that he’s in jail and off the streets. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Shunick family at this time.”
Gertie Martie, Bryant Martie’s grandmother, says she can still picture Pate’s face when she closes her eyes.
“All I know is that I loved her. She was a sweet girl, a good mother who loved her children,” Gertie Martie said.
As Gertie Martie stood at her home on Wilcox Street on Thursday, she recalled how strange Pate’s disappearance was at the time. She said she remembers Pate missing a birthday party the family was planning for one of the children.
“We couldn’t figure out why,” Gertie Martie said.
Gertie Martie’s daughter, Montie Martie, was also the victim of a homicide in June 2010. She said Montie and Lisa knew each other well and were about the same age.
“(Lisa) always had a smile,” Gertie Martie said.
Pate’s body was discovered by Guy Landry, who told investigators at the time that he found what appeared to be human skeleton remains under a pile of wood on his property, according an Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office report.
In an interview with The Daily Advertiser in September 1999, Landry said he stumbled upon the discovery while walking through what appeared to be a trail cutting through an overgrown area in his back yard.
“Just a few steps into the thicket, barely 25 yards from his front door, he spotted three boards laid side-by-side and what looked like a bone at the far end,” The Advertiser reported, noting that Landry had rented the home for less than a month when he found the remains.
Pate’s death and the discovery of her body came as Lavergne was facing a pending aggravated oral sexual battery charge on accusations that he tied up, blindfolded and sexually assaulted a woman in rural Evangeline Parish in April 1999.
Lavergne pleaded guilty to the charge in February 2000 and served eight years in prison before his release in August 2008, a few months after the Acadia Parish grand jury considered the murder charge against him in Pate’s death.
Police have said Lavergne was initially developed as a suspect in Shunick’s disappearance after investigators received a tip on 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, according to police.
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.
Shunick, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette student and an avid cyclist, was last seen shortly before 2 a.m. May 19 while leaving from a friend’s home near the downtown area on her way to her parent’s home on Governor Miro Street in Lafayette.
A Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office report released two weeks ago in response to news media requests said Lavergne checked himself into a hospital there for treatment of stab wounds on May 19. That was the same day Shunick disappeared.
Lavergne told a deputy he had been robbed and attacked with a knife at an unknown gas station in an unknown location in the parish, the report said.
Lavergne, an offshore worker from rural St. Landry Parish, faces a possible death penalty if convicted on either of the first-degree murder charges.
He is being held without bail at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center.