Ted Kergan accomplished what he set out to do Monday in a Baton Rouge courtroom — make eye contact with the Bossier City man recently charged in the killing of Kergan’s brother, Gary, three decades ago.
Moments after Ronald Dalton Dunnagan pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge and was given a court-appointed attorney, Kergan stood up in the front row of state District Judge Mike Erwin’s courtroom and glared at a shackled Dunnagan.
Kergan then stepped into the center aisle and fixed his gaze once more on Dunnagan before the 65-year-old defendant was escorted out.
“I wanted to make sure it registered with him who I was,” Kergan said afterward inside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse. “I think it clicked. I think I look enough like Gary.
“If he hadn’t looked at me, it would have been very disappointing. I was very pleased with the exchange.”
If he could speak to Dunnagan, Kergan said, “I’d love to tell him I’ve been tracking him for 30 years.”
Gary Kergan, who owned a chain of Sonic Drive-In restaurants in south Louisiana with his brother, was last seen alive Nov. 29, 1984, at a north Baton Rouge apartment shared by Dunnagan and a former exotic dancer, Leila Mulla.
Kergan’s body has never been found, but a significant amount of blood was found in the trunk of the 34-year-old Crowley businessman’s Cadillac El Dorado when the abandoned car was located in Metairie several days after his disappearance. In 2012, DNA testing revealed the blood belonged to Kergan.
Kergan was declared legally dead by the courts in 1986.
Ted Kergan said he has never given up hope of finding out where his brother’s body is located.
“That’s the overwhelming thing that I want to get accomplished here,” he stressed.
Dunnagan’s indictment on Sept. 4 came several months after Mulla, 48, of Astoria, New York, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Kergan’s death and implicated Dunnagan in the crime. She was sentenced in May to 30 years in prison and promised to cooperate with authorities.
Dunnagan was arrested Sept. 5, his third arrest in the case. He previously was released twice without being indicted.
“It’s overwhelming. It really is. It’s overwhelming in the sense of relief,” Kergan said of Dunnagan’s indictment by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury and latest arrest. “He’s in jail and I don’t think he’ll ever get out.”
A second-degree murder conviction would carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Manslaughter is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.
Mulla has admitted luring Gary Kergan to the Byron Street apartment she shared with Dunnagan and serving him wine allegedly poisoned by Dunnagan.
Prosecutor Dana Cummings has said Mulla and Dunnagan plotted to rob and kill Kergan.
Cummings has said Mulla met Kergan at the Night Spot Lounge on Plank Road, where she worked as a dancer. Mulla left the lounge with Kergan and lured him back to the apartment, where Dunnagan was hiding, the prosecutor has said. Dunnagan dragged a poisoned Kergan into another room “to complete the murder,” Cummings has said.
She also said Dunnagan placed the body in the trunk of Kergan’s car to dispose of it.
Dunnagan and Mulla were first arrested in Las Vegas in December 1984 and accused of plotting to rob Gary Kergan but were released in March 1985 after then-East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Bryan Bush declined to prosecute the pair because of a lack of evidence.
Mulla and Dunnagan were arrested again in December 2012 after DNA testing of the blood found in the trunk of Gary Kergan’s car confirmed it belonged to him. That testing was not available at the time of the crime. Mulla also admitted her involvement in the crime in statements she gave to Louisiana authorities in December 2012 in New York, according to court records.
An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury indicted Mulla in April 2013 on a first-degree murder charge but took no action against Dunnagan, who was then released from jail. Mulla was not cooperating with the state at that time.
Mulla worked as a nurse in New York prior to her second arrest, her attorney, Frank Holthaus, has said. News accounts at the time of the 1984 arrests described Dunnagan as a drifter.