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No homicide charges in case where suspects admitted drugging, robbing Metairie man before he died

The decision not to file murder or manslaughter charges against the pimp, Randy Schenck, or Dominique Berry, the prostitute angered Arthur's family in Missouri.

METAIRIE, La. — Exactly six years after 40-year-old Shawn Arthur’s death in his Metairie apartment, Jefferson Parish prosecutors have decided not to pursue homicide charges against the pimp and prostitute who were convicted of federal crimes for feeding Arthur alcohol and drugs to incapacitate and rob him the night he died. 

The decision not to file murder or manslaughter charges against the pimp, Randy Schenck, or Dominique Berry, the prostitute Schenck used to incapacitate and rob men across the country, angered Arthur's family in Missouri. His father, Bob Arthur, said the case should at least go to a grand jury. 

“Let the citizens of Jefferson Parish use their common sense and look at the facts and make up their mind if murder charges should or should not be filed,” he said. “I mean, I can live with that.”

Problems from the start

The Jefferson Parish Coroner and Sheriff's offices initially ruled Arthur's death an accident caused by overdrinking.

Berry's fingerprints were found at the scene, but JPSO Det. Kurt Zeagler wrote in his investigative report that Berry "has made herself unavailable to law enforcement," and closed the investigation after three months. 

Arthur's father, Bob Arthur, didn't accept that. He hired private investigators who found Berry in a Georgia jail, where she admitted giving drugs and alcohol to dozens of men to help Schenck rob them. Bob Arthur turned his findings over to the FBI, and federal prosecutors charged Schenck and Berry with sex trafficking and identity theft. 

The Arthur family’s findings led to JPSO and the coroner reopening their investigation. The coroner had other medical examiners review the file who overruled the initial findings by Dr. Marianna Eserman. The coroner’s office changed the cause of death from accidental to undetermined. 

Eserman was married at the time to JPSO Sgt. Travis Eserman, who signed off on Zeagler’s death investigation reports. 

Guilty pleas for crimes

Berry and Schenck eventually pled guilty in federal court to feeding alcohol and drugs to Arthur and other men who responded to Berry’s escort ads as a part of their criminal scheme. Berry, who claimed she was beaten and trafficked by Schenk, was sentenced to 45 months in federal prison. Schenck got the maximum sentence for his crimes, 25 years in prison. 

At a Feb. 14 restitution hearing to determine how much money Schenck must pay nine victims across five states, Jefferson Parish Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich testified under oath that the drugs and alcohol Schenck had Berry give to Arthur did, in fact, cause his death. 

Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg what was the cause of Arthur’s death, Cvitanovich said, “It was the alcohol in combination with the drugs.” 

But attorneys from District Attorney Paul Connick’s office who attended the hearing didn’t see it that way.

“As recently as Feb. 14, 2023, members of the District Attorney’s Office attended a restitution hearing in federal court in which testimony was introduced as to the cause of Mr. Arthur’s death. To date, cause of death remains in dispute among the experts,” the DA’s office said in a statement. “Given the aforementioned considerations, the District Attorney’s Office has determined that there is insufficient evidence to pursue a homicide prosecution in connection with the death of Shawn Arthur.”

Under Louisiana criminal law, if someone dies as a result of a robbery or other crime, it’s murder.

"They're totally ignoring the facts'

At the Feb. 14 hearing, U.S. District Judge Barry Ashe even asked why Schenck had not been charged with murder. Ginsberg said that was not under federal jurisdiction and he couldn’t speak for the local authorities.

Assistant District Attorney David Wolff called Bob Arthur on Thursday to deliver the bad news. Bob Arthur said Wolff’s explanation made no sense.

“He said they reviewed everything, especially the facts portrayed by Detective Zeagler. And (Wolff) felt that there was information in the facts that Zeagler had portrayed that caused them to decide that there was not enough there to either file for manslaughter charges nor to file for murder charges,” he said. “It almost makes me feel that the decision was made two years ago not to file charges. And that they're totally ignoring the facts that our family obtained, as well as that the DOJ and the FBI.”

In spite of Berry and Schenck’s admission in federal court that they plied Arthur and their other victims with alcohol, the district attorney’s statement also said, "There is no evidence to establish that Mr. Arthur did not voluntarily consume the alcohol.”

The DA had to make a decision by Saturday because there is a six-year deadline to file manslaughter charges. But there is no deadline to file murder charges. Bob Arthur said he's not giving up and is seeking a copy of the DA’s full investigative file.

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