A former stripper/prostitute-turned-nurse told a jury Thursday that she and one-time French Quarter street clown Ronald Dunnagan planned to rob and kill Crowley businessman Gary Kergan in Baton Rouge for several weeks before doing so in November 1984, with Dunnagan going so far as to poison several mice to make sure the plan he chose would succeed.
As rehearsed, Leila Mulla — sentenced to 30 years in prison last year after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter — said Dunnagan was hiding in a closet the morning of Nov. 29, 1984, when she took Kergan from the Night Spot Lounge where she danced back to the Byron Street apartment that she and Dunnagan shared.
Mulla noted that she and Dunnagan, who is now standing trial on a second-degree murder charge that carries a sentence of life in prison, referred to Kergan as “Sonic Gary” because Kergan and his brother Ted owned a chain of Sonic Drive-In restaurants in south Louisiana.
Mulla, 50, of Astoria, New York, said she and Gary Kergan, 34, drank wine before having sex. She then went to the kitchen, poured more wine and returned to the bedroom, handing Kergan a glass that contained a white powder-like substance.
“Gary started to choke and fell to the floor. I got scared,” a trembling Mulla said, her voice cracking. “I started to run out of the bedroom. Ronald pushed me back. He took a pillow and put it over Gary’s face. He quit moving, and he quit breathing.”
Mulla said Dunnagan then dragged Kergan’s body into the bathroom, put it in the bathtub and closed the door. Mulla said she got curious after a while, opened the bathroom door and saw blood on a wall.
“He yelled at me to get out,” she said.
Mulla said she sat in the bedroom for what seemed like several hours. A bloody Dunnagan eventually emerged with several large plastic bags, which Dunnagan put in the trunk of Kergan’s Cadillac El Dorado, which was later found abandoned in Metairie with a large amount of blood in the trunk.
Dunnagan, she said, put the box of rat poison he bought, the wine glasses and Kergan’s clothes in the bags.
“I don’t remember how many plastic bags there were. I vaguely remember helping put one bag in the trunk,” Mulla said.
Mulla said she and Dunnagan then drove off in the car, with Dunnagan behind the wheel. Dunnagan, she said, discarded the bags in various garbage dumpsters — one behind an old building and another beside a road.
“I don’t remember the locations. I was a little bit on the drunk side,” she said.
Kergan’s body has never been found. He was declared legally dead by the courts in 1986.
Mulla testified Dunnagan, who later cleaned the apartment with bleach, told her he dismembered Kergan’s body.
Prosecutor Dana Cummings rested the state’s case after Mulla completed her testimony. Dunnagan’s court-appointed attorney, Susan Hebert, immediately rested the defense’s case without calling a witness.
Cummings and Hebert will give their closing arguments to the jury Friday morning.
Mulla — who was arrested in December 1984, released the next spring, arrested again in December 2012 and indicted in April 2013 — testified she thinks about what happened to Kergan every day.
“I’ve had a lot of pain and sorrow. I’ve been very remorseful for my actions,” she said. “Mentally, I was a mess. I am so sorry.”
Ted Kergan, who was in state District Judge Mike Erwin’s courtroom when Mulla testified for nearly 2½ hours, said he believes Mulla is sorry but only because she got caught.
“Other than that, I don’t believe she has a conscience,” he said, adding it is abhorrent that his brother was discarded like a piece of trash.
Dunnagan, 66, of Bossier City, sat quietly as Mulla testified. His greyish-white hair, beard and mustache are shorter than when he was arrested in September 2014 for the third time in the case.
Earlier Thursday, jurors watched Dunnagan’s videotaped 2012 police statement in which he told police he was in his apartment with Mulla and Gary Kergan in late November 1984, the last time Kergan was seen alive. But Dunnagan insisted neither he nor Mulla harmed Kergan.
“I’m innocent,” Dunnagan said three different times while Baton Rouge Police Sgt. Ross Williams questioned him at the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office following his 2012 arrest in the killing of Kergan.
That was the second of Dunnagan’s three arrests in the case. It came after blood found in the trunk of Kergan’s car was confirmed through DNA testing in 2012 to belong to Kergan.
“I didn’t murder him,” Dunnagan said to Williams.
Dunnagan explained to Williams that Kergan was in a room with Mulla in the Byron Street apartment when Mulla came out of the room upset. Dunnagan said he spoke with Kergan for several minutes and Kergan left in his Cadillac.
“When he left, he was still alive,” Dunnagan insisted in the interview.
Dunnagan told Williams he met Mulla in New Orleans, where she was a dancer and he a French Quarter street clown.
Mulla testified she was an 18-year-old runaway, homeless and living on the streets of New Orleans when Dunnagan allowed her to stay in his apartment there. But she said Dunnagan would lock her in and eventually told her she had to have sex with him.
Dunnagan, she said, got her jobs at New Orleans strip clubs but also prostituted her. Mulla said she was sometimes taken to prostitution houses blindfolded.
“I was very fearful of him for a long time,” she said. “My fear of him turned into more of love and obedience.”
Mulla said she was deceived, manipulated and coerced by Dunnagan.
After they moved to Baton Rouge, Mulla said Dunnagan got her a job at the Night Spot on Plank Road, which is where she met Gary Kergan. She said he wore jewelry and carried large amounts of cash. She also said it was Dunnagan’s idea to rob and kill Kergan.
After the murder, Mulla said she and Dunnagan moved out of the Byron Street apartment and drove to Las Vegas. On the way, she said, Dunnagan showed her Kergan’s watch and two rings that he planned to sell.
Mulla, who has two grown children, became a registered nurse in 2000 and was working as an emergency room nurse when she was arrested in 2012.