LAFAYETTE — Authorities would not say Wednesday whether Brandon Scott Lavergne led them to the body believed to be that of missing coed Michaela “Mickey” Shunick on Tuesday, but the man who is accused in her kidnapping and slaying was signed out of jail for almost nine hours that day.
Police would only say that investigators found the body believed to be that of Shunick, 22, Tuesday morning in a remote location in Evangeline Parish after receiving “very credible” information about its location.
The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office released an inmate custody sheet Wednesday that shows Lavergne, 33, was checked out of the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center at 6:40 a.m. Tuesday.
Lt. Jack Lightfoot, an investigator with the Sheriff’s Office assigned to the Shunick task force, returned Lavergne to the jail sometime between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, said Capt. Kip Judice, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.
Cpl. Paul Mouton, spokesman for Lafayette police, said a city officer accompanied Lightfoot.
The body was found buried near some grave sites in a small cemetery about 100 yards off La. 10 near Mamou.
The Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office turned over the remains Wednesday morning to the LSU FACES Lab for identification.
Keith Talamo, chief medicolegal investigator at the Coroner’s Office, said the body was turned over “because of her advanced stages of decomposition.”
“The FACES Lab will also try to determine the cause and manner of death for us,” Talamo said.
The lab director said she hopes to have results soon.
“We have the remains. We’re working on them. Hopefully we’ll know something in a day or so,” said Mary H. Manhein, director of LSU FACES Laboratory.
Shunick, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette student, was last seen shortly before 2 a.m. May 19, bicycling from a friend’s home on Ryan Street near downtown to her parents’ home on Governor Miro, about five miles away. She was an avid cyclist and animal lover.
Lavergne was arrested July 5 on counts of first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping in Shunick’s disappearance after police investigated a tip connecting him to a white truck seen on surveillance video the day she disappeared.
District Attorney Mike Harson declined to comment Wednesday as to whether Lavergne has decided to cooperate with authorities, or whether Lavergne had struck a plea deal that could potentially reduce his exposure to the death penalty.
The District Attorney’s Office announced its intention to seek the death penalty after Lavergne was indicted in July on two counts of first-degree murder in Shunick’s disappearance and in the July 1999 death of Lisa Pate.
Lavergne was a person of interest in Pate’s death as early as 2000. He was brought before a grand jury in 2008 in that case, but the grand jury took no action.
Margaret Bearb, a volunteer coordinator for the Shunick search effort and a family spokeswoman, said Shunick’s father, Tom Shunick, has said he has no knowledge of any sort of plea bargain.
Shunick’s mother, Nancy Rowe, issued the following statement Wednesday:
“Our only goal since 5/19 has been to find Mickey, and bring her home,” Rowe wrote in an email Wednesday. “We are still in agony, but now at least we have some direction, a timetable. We are feeling relief.”
Rowe said the support the family has received has helped.
“This has been something we would never have thought to have to face, never thought we would survive,” she said. “The local people, and others all over the country and the world, have offered us so much encouragement and comfort in so many ways. This is really what has kept us from folding. We are ready for this to end.”
Lavergne, an offshore worker from rural St. Landry Parish, is a registered sex offender who was released from prison in 2008 after serving 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.
Meanwhile, Bearb said volunteer efforts will continue.
Bearb said volunteers are considering whether to hold a memorial or vigil for Shunick and will send out thank you letters to those who assisted in the months-long effort.
“We can’t just close it that fast because we’ve all become family. We’ve all become extremely close,” Bearb said Wednesday.