Suspect in college student's death seeks to void guilty plea

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - Brandon Scott Lavergne has asked a judge to void his guilty pleas in August to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Mickey Shunick and Lisa Pate. Lavergne entered the pleas less than two months after his arrest in a high-profile investigation that began May 19, when Shunick, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette student, disappeared while riding her bicycle home from downtown Lafayette.

The Shunick case revived an older investigation into the 1999 death of Pate, and Lavergne, who had long been a suspect in the older killing. The Advocate reports Lavergne has filed hand-written court motions seeking to void the pleas and the life sentence that he is now serving at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

"We don't see any merit to any of his claims," 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson said. "Once they get incarcerated, they have time to start thinking and second-guessing themselves."

As part of the plea agreement, Lavergne told investigators where to find Shunick's body in rural Evangeline Parish and gave a confession admitting that he killed her. In return for the plea, he was spared from a possible death penalty, though he could face the prospect of execution again if the pleas were thrown out and the case went to trial.

Lavergne now alleges in court documents that he felt pressured to plead guilty because he faced a possible death penalty and believed his attempts at mounting a legal defense would have been frustrated by the extensive pre-trial publicity, some of which he alleges was stoked by information leaked by authorities.

He also wrote that his court-appointed attorneys should not have advised him to accept the plea deal and cooperate with investigators. One of Lavergne's attorneys, Clay Lejeune, said he had not seen the recent court filings and could not comment on whether Lavergne felt pressured or not.

Lavergne's legal challenge is on hold for the time being.

Fifteenth Judicial District Judge Herman Clause ruled last week that Lavergne had not submitted the required paperwork and sent the filings back to Lavergne with instructions to follow the correct legal procedure for challenging the pleas.