Opening statements begin, witnesses take stand in cold case killing from 1984

Opening statements begin in cold case killing from 1984

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Opening statements began Wednesday morning and a few witnesses for the prosecution took the stand in the trial of the person suspected of killing a man 30 years ago.

Attorneys addressed jurors and the judge in the second-degree murder trial of Ronald Dunnagan, 66, starting at 10:25 a.m. Dunnagan is accused of robbing and killing Gary Kergan in 1984.

Susan Hebert is Dunnagan's defense attorney. Dana Cummings is the lead prosecutor. Judge Mike Erwin is presiding over the case.

The Baton Rouge Police Department reported Kergan went missing on Nov. 29, 1984. They added he was last seen leaving a night club on Plank Road with an exotic dancer named Leila Mulla.

Mulla's stage name at the night club was Erika, and the club owners, Dorothy and Gary Magee, testified in court Wednesday.

"I seen Erika leave with Gary Kergan that night at closing time and she didn't come back to work," said Gary Magee. "Erika didn't come back to work and Gary come up missing."

The Magees both testified Mulla called in sick the next day for work and then never returned after that.

"The next night, they didn't hear from her at all and they never saw her again," Cummings added.

During defense attorney Susan Hebert's nine-minute opening statement, she spoke about how the police were "spoon feeding" Leila into thinking she was an innocent 19-year-old, and talking her into a plea deal.

"The DA made a deal with the devil," said Hebert.

Leila pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges last year. She said she poisoned Kergan with wine and Dunnagan was hiding in the closet at their apartment while they she and Kergan had sex. After she poisoned Kergan, Dunnagan came out of the closet and she left the room.

The first witness to take the stand Wednesday was John Dauthier, a detective with the BRPD cold case division. The second witness was the victim's son, Wade Kergan. When the prosecutor asked him if he remembers when his dad went missing, he said "It was the weekend of my birthday and we were going to celebrate when he got back in town, but he never came back."

Dana Cummings said that was Mulla's  testimony back in 1984. Cummings said Mulla poisoned Kergan with wine and then Dunnagan was hiding in the closet at their apartment while they she and Kergan had sex. After she poisoned him, Dunnagan came out of the closet and she left the room.

"She left and there was a violent struggle," said Cummings.

Don Evans, a retired BRPD officer, was the third witness on the stand. He took the missing report on November 29, 1984. He testified that Gary Kerigan had $2,400 on him when he was killed.

According to investigators, Kergan's missing car was found in Metairie with puddles of blood in the trunk, but his body has never been located. Mulla and her then boyfriend, Dunnagan, were accused of the killing. Detectives were able to track Mulla down to Las Vegas, where detectives said they found her diary complete with plans to kill Kergan and also implicating her boyfriend.

"It became quite clear to investigators that the homicide of Gary Kergan was not just not an unfortunate random act, but was most likely a planned event," Det. John Dauthier with the BRPD Cold Case Division said in 2012.

However, because there was not enough evidence in the case 30 plus years ago, the case went cold. Dauthier said DNA technology in 2012 linked Mulla and Dunnagan once again to the murder. Both were arrested.

"Ronald Dunnagan was located living just outside Bossier City, Louisiana. Leila Mulla was located living in an apartment in Astoria, New York," Dauthier added.

Gary's family, especially his brother Ted who never gave up hope on finding his brother's killers, is now sitting through trial hoping to get justice for Gary.

"My brother is reaching out from the grave and holding them accountable for what they did. He was my brother by chance, my friend by choice"

The prosecution has a total of 13 witnesses they are presenting and their star witness Leila Mulla has yet to take the stand. After the prosecution rests, the defense takes over. The trial is expected to wrap up by the end of the week.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Dunnagan faces a life sentence.

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