GONZALES — An Ascension Parish grand jury indicted on a man Thursday accused in a May 4 slaying at Suthern Kumfort’s Lounge in Prairieville, prosecutors said.
Assistant District Attorney Ben Johnson said the grand jury returned a true bill for second-degree murder against Zachary Pusch, 20, of Prairieville, in the death of Willis Tanner IV, 28, of St. Amant.
The grand jury was convened Thursday at the parish courthouse annex in Gonzales. If convicted of second-degree murder, Pusch faces a mandatory life sentence in prison.
Prosecutors also said Thursday a nearly year-old second-degree battery charge against Pusch was being activated.
Pusch was arrested on Aug. 15, but the woman whom he is accused of attacking asked a court in February to dismiss the charge, prosecutors said.
Billy Clark, administrator for the District Attorney’s Office for the 23rd Judicial District, said prosecutors agreed instead to continue the charge without date.
Clark said prosecutors were going to dismiss the charge if Pusch had gotten in no further trouble for a year.
Also, in a separate civil court development, the mother of Tanner’s 4-year-old son has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Suthern Kumfort’s alleged business owner, Steve Duke, and the building’s owner, Charles Puckett.
Filed June 1 in District Court, the lawsuit by plaintiff Rebecca Gaspard seeks damages for emotional trauma, pain and suffering for the child whom she shared with Tanner.
The couple never married, attorneys said.
Sheriff’s deputies have said that Pusch was working for Duke to erase surveillance video tape of Duke having sex with a woman in the club business office.
Pusch was being paid the night of the slaying with alcoholic beverages and later was found to have a blood-alcohol content of 0.04 percent, deputies have said.
Pusch was not named in the lawsuit, however.
Club attorney Joe Long said that at first glance, the club believes that Pusch is responsible for the tragedy but will allow its insurance company to handle the defense.
Long said Pusch was an independent contractor, not a club employee.
Plaintiff’s attorney Robert Gill, however, acknowledged that a court may delay the civil case — granting what is called a stay — while separate criminal charges proceed against civil defendants Puckett and Duke.
On June 8, a week after the lawsuit was filed, Duke, 56, and Puckett, 61, both of Prairieville, were arrested on counts of filing false public records and other charges.
Tanner IV’s slaying on May 4 was the second at the strip club on Airline Highway since April 2008, prompting criminal and state alcohol control investigations into the club’s ownership.
Deputies have said the records were filed in a scheme to hide Puckett’s actual ownership of the business.
Willis Tanner III, 60, father of Tanner IV and not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said he could not see Pusch being charged with anything less than second-degree murder.
“What he did to my son was like that of a wild animal rather than a human being,” Tanner III said in an email after the grand jury indictment.
“Now he (Pusch) needs to spend the rest of his entire life in prison with no chance of parole. If given the chance, he will do this again to someone.”
Sheriff’s deputies have said that Pusch severely beat Tanner, a patron of the club, after an argument in the parking lot near the club door.
Pusch had just been removed from the club after an argument with a woman inside, deputies have said.
Pusch allegedly punched Tanner and knocked him to the ground, deputies have said.
A club bouncer tried to restrain Pusch but he broke free and kicked and jumped on Tanner’s head until the victim lost consciousness, deputies have said.
Tanner later died at a Baton Rouge hospital.
Gaspard’s lawsuit claims alcohol that Pusch was served in the club “increased the likelihood of Mr. Pusch becoming aggressive and violent.”
The suit asserts that Duke and Suthern Kumfort’s were negligent for serving the alcohol and employing Pusch, a minor with a criminal history.
In contrast to the suit’s allegations, a parish hearing officer found that Puckett was the club’s owner not Duke. Deputies also allege this, but club attorney Long disputes the claim.
The club closed on May 6, one day after its strip club license was denied, and has not reopened, deputies have said. On Wednesday, the club lost an administrative appeal of that license denial.