By SHEILA V KUMAR / Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- A registered sex offender arrested in the disappearance and slaying of a University of Louisiana-Lafayette student checked out of a jail and talked to authorities hours before a body believed to be that of the woman was found.
Lafayette Police Department spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton says he can't say if suspect Brandon Lavergne was the "credible witness" who led them to a cemetery off of La. Highway 10 where the remains were found. Lavergne, 33, was arrested last month and is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping in Michaela "Mickey" Shunick's death.
He also has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the July 1999 death of Lisa Marie Pate.
Shunick was last seen riding her bicycle away from a friend's house shortly before 2 a.m. on May 19, days before her 22nd birthday. Eight days later, her bike was found partially submerged in a swampy area under a highway bridge in Iberville Parish, about 25 miles from the spot where she was last seen.
An inmate custody form says Lavergne was checked out of the Lafayette Parish Correction Center at 6:40 a.m. Tuesday and he was taken across the street to the sheriff's department.
"This is very common. Within the jail, we don't have any interview rooms that are equipped with audio or video recordings. Any time you want to interview a subject you bring him to the sheriff's office," said Capt. Kip Judice.
He said Lavergne was checked out by a sheriff's employee who was assigned to the Shunick task force and was checked back in around 3:30 that day.
Hours later, police release a statement saying they have "credible information as to the location of Mickey Shunick's body." Investigators were taken to the cemetery where they exhumed remains they "strongly believe to be Mickey Shunick," Mouton said.
It may be days before investigators will be able to identify the remains because the body was in such an advanced stage of decomposition, said Keith Talamo, chief medicolegal investigator at the Lafayette Parish Coroner's Office.
Talamo said the remains have been handed over to Mary Manhein, director of the Louisiana State University FACES Laboratory, who specializes in forensic anthropology. Calls to her office were not immediately returned.
District Attorney Mike Harson says Lavergne has been a suspect in Pate's killing since at least 2000. He is being held without bond. Harson said he couldn't comment on Shunick's case until the body is identified.
Prosecutors have said in court filings they believe Lavergne may have been moving the bodies around in an attempt to hamper the investigation.
The Shunick family released a statement Tuesday evening through Margaret Bearb, a coordinator at the Mickey Shunick Headquarters where volunteer searches are organized.
"...Until an official press release is made by the proper officials, we cannot report, either way, that a body found was that of Mickey," the statement said.
"It has been, and still is, a long journey in the search to find Mickey, so we truly feel that they deserve some time alone," the statement added.