Jury finds Ronald Dunnagan guilty of murder in 1984 cold case

Jury finds Ronald Dunnagan guilty of murder in 1984 cold case - 6 p.m.
Gary Kergan
Gary Kergan
Ronald Dunnagan (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office)
Ronald Dunnagan (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office)
Leila Mulla (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office)
Leila Mulla (Source: East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A jury took a little less than an hour Friday to find a man guilty of murder of a businessman 30 years ago.

Ronald Dunnagan, 66, was found guilty of second-degree murder for robbing and killing Gary Kergan in 1984. He faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of probation or parole.

The jury returned with a verdict just before 11:45 a.m. Following the verdict, Ted Kergan, the victim's brother, issued the following statement:

On behalf of my family, I want to express how relieved we are that Ronald Dunnagan has been convicted in the violent murder of my brother, Gary, in 1984.

"I think justice is finally served. The Kergan family has been waiting for 31 years," said prosecutor Dana Cummings with the District Attorney's Office.

DA Hillar Moore actually went and collected evidence in this case 31 years ago and now, his office prosecuted Dunnagan.

"It was kind of odd re-visiting that case and seeing some of the evidence collection bags with my name on it. Kind of brought back a lot of memories," said Moore.

"It's a horrible thing to think that somebody can dispose of a body, can be so good at a crime, that they can never be brought to justice so the fact that these two have actually had to face justice, even after a really long time, is just satisfying," said Cummings.

"It's a 30 year old case, and it's just difficult to do something like this," said Defense Attorney Susan Hebert.

Dunnagan was offered two separate plea deals prior to going to trial. Hebert said the state did offer Dunnagan a plea deal last year in December, the same Mulla was offered and accepted, 30 years for a guilty plea. He turned it down. Then, she said the state offered him another plea just before trial started this week, part of that being he would tell the Kergan Family where Gary's body was. He still said he wanted to go to trial.

"I think he reached from beyond the grave and participated in getting these two people that murdered him, brutally and planned it ahead of time and gave them what they deserved," said Ted Kergan, the victim's younger brother. "Gary was my brother by chance but he was my friend my choice."

Wade Kergan, Gary's son, was only 9 years old when his father was robbed and killed in November 1984.

"I feel relieved. This has been a long time coming, 31 years, and it's satisfying that the people responsible are where they belong," said Wade Kergan.

Cummings began addressing the jury with her closing just after 9:30 a.m.

"He [Ronald Dunnagan] skirted for the past 31 years," Cummings said. "He bought himself time by disposing of the body. Time is up. Science has caught up with him."

Defense attorney Susan Hebert started her closing just before 10 a.m.

"State wants to convict Ronald Dunnagan on this woman's [Leila Mulla] word," Hebert said.

She said the state needs "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," but there is no physical proof. She added instead, just because the state "did the best they could do and Mulla did best they could do," they can't convict Dunnagan.

"Look at me (to the jury). You need to find him not guilty," Hebert said to end her closing.

The prosecution then offered a rebuttal.

Judge Mike Erwin began giving the jury instructions around 10:25 a.m. and deliberations started around 10:45 a.m.

The Baton Rouge Police Department reported Kergan went missing on Nov. 29, 1984. His body was never found. Investigators added he was last seen leaving a night club on Plank Road with Mulla, who was an exotic dancer at the time.

Mulla was the prosecution's star witness. She was the last of 11 to take the stand in the trial. Mulla is now 50 years old, but she was only 19 when Gary Kergan was killed. The former stripper and prostitute pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges last year and is serving a 30-year sentence. On Thursday, she testified against her then boyfriend and pimp, Ronald Dunnagan.

"[Gary Kergan] was buying me drinks and I was drinking quite a bit and eventually, he became one of my customers," Mulla said.

She further told jurors how Dunnagan came up with the plan to kill Kergan in 1984.

"Ronald Dunnagan told me he [Kergan] owned some Sonic restaurants, so we started calling him 'Sonic Gary.' Ronald Dunnagan thought it would be a good idea for us to rob and kill him," Mulla added.

Mulla painted a picture of Dunnagan forcing her to prostitute, adding he did not work and instead took all of her money from her so called "tricks."

"The plan was we were going to poison him. Ron had done some research. We were going to poison him and he would dispose of the body. He called up different trash companies to find out the price of how much they charge because he wanted to dispose of the body in the dumpster," Mulla explained.

Mulla said they specifically chose Nov. 29, 1984 because Kergan had a routine and prior to that, he had come to her apartment, had wine and sex.

"We had sex and when we were done, I went to the refrigerator and poured wine in both glasses. In one glass, there was white residue, and that's the glass I was to give to Gary and I gave it to him," Mulla testified.

From there, Mulla said Kergan started choking and saying, "Help me." She said she got scared and Dunnagan jumped out of the bedroom closet, where he was hiding and put a pillow over his face until he quit moving and breathing. Mulla went on to say Dunnagan spent the next few hours in the bathroom with Kergan's body, came out and the two went to a few dumpsters around town and Dunnagan dumped the plastic bags.

Mulla said Dunnagan cleaned the apartment the next day and they left for Las Vegas.

Defense Attorney Susan Hebert spent her cross examination trying to poke holes in Mulla's testimony and prove that the only reason she was now testifying against Dunnagan was so her 30-year sentence could be reduced as part of her plea deal.

The prosecution rested after Mulla's testimony. The defense did not present any witnesses and also rested.

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