From left to right are Rotarian Mitch Fontenot, Evangeline Parish District Attorney Trent Brignac, and Rotary President-elect Nicole Wenger. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
District attorney shares his office’s role with Ville Platte Rotary
For the Ville Platte Rotary Club’s first meeting of the new year, Rotarian Mitch Fontenot invited Evangeline Parish District Attorney Trent Brignac to speak and give an overview on his office.
Brignac began by complimenting his staff and his five assistant district attorneys Marcus Fontenot, Betsy Jackson, Nicole Gil, Chris Ludeau, and Nick Monier.
The district attorney then went over some of the responsibilities of the office besides prosecuting felony and misdemeanor cases.
“The district attorney’s office had a lot of other responsibilities that go unseen by the general public a lot of times,” said Brignac.
One of the main unseen responsibilities, as Brignac said, “representing public bodies.”
He stated, “It is very important the public bodies that serve Evangeline Parish have proper legal counsel so they can avoid missteps in the law.”
According to Brignac, First Assistant District Attorney Marcus Fontenot advises the police jury, Betsy Jackson advises the school board, and Nicole Gil advises the sales tax commission.
“I’m proud to say these individuals have developed a very good working relationship with those governing bodies and elected or appointed officials who serve on these governing bodies,” said Brignac. “It just makes things a lot more easy if you have people who can get it right.”
Another role of the district attorney’s office is assisting in investigations of crimes with investigator Marcus Aucoin.
“For the most part,” expressed Brignac, “the district attorney’s office is not an investigative body. We do some investigation, but we only have one investigator.”
On any day, Brignac’s office receives cases investigated by either one of the municipal police departments in the parish, the sheriff’s office, the state police, legislative auditor, or attorney general.
“Every one has a different set of investigators and detectives, and everyone has a different head of agency,” commented Brignac. “They’re all going to have different ways of doing things, and we have to make adjustments to work with all these agencies.”
He continued, “We try to make a big effort to reach out to these agencies, especially the local ones, and let them know we are here to help because they lack a lot of resources as a result of lack of revenue, and we understand it.”
Brignac gave recent examples of when he and his investigator went out and investigated potential crime scenes. Both examples stemmed from the disappearance of Bryson Thibodeaux in Point Blue.
“That Saturday night I got a call about a missing child,” said the district attorney. “I talked to my investigator and said we need to ride out there in the morning. The next morning he and I got out there around 8:00 and went to the home where the young boy was living.”
Both officials were able to see with their own eyes the living conditions for the child and his sister and were able to meet with neighbors, family members, and friends “who have actually observed the family going about its daily lives.”
This, according to Brignac, allowed his office to feel “more confident in the decisions we made over the next three days regarding that particular child and the parents of that child.”
He added, “We were in a much better position to understand and visualize what was going on. We felt we had a pretty good grasp on what happened and why it happened. That allows us to get a little closer to rendering a just result as this moves forward over the next weeks and months.”
While Brignac and Aucoin were still on scene that Sunday morning, they learned of another discovery.
“One of the volunteers was looking under a shed and picked up some type of basin, and under the basin was what looked like a rock,” stated Brignac. “When they moved the rock, it rolled, and they saw the eye sockets and teeth and realized it wasn’t a rock or an animal skull. Because there were law enforcement in the area, they were able to verify it immediately.”
The district attorney then contacted the Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services from LSU in Baton Rouge. He said Dr. Theresa Wilson was on the scene and “collected the remains of the body for analysis and collected it properly.”
As Brignac said, “They’re expecting a biological profile by the end of this week which should indicate the gender, approximate age, and DNA of that particular individual. They’re actually able to take the shape of the skull and, through forensic technology, age the body and form a composite of what that individual would have looked like at about the time of their death.”
That composite will assist in identifying the remains.
Brignac, at the end of his talk, said his office is “in the business of helping people.” He added, “With some defendants, helping is maybe giving them a fine. With others, helping might be putting them on probation or sending them to rehab. With others, helping might be incarcerating them for a while in hopes that will modify their future behavior and can conform to society.”
The district attorney then fielded questions from the floor.
Rotarian and Doctor Joey Soileau said, “I heard they’re supposed to have a statewide beauty contest for the assistant district attorneys.” He was referring to the “Hollywood handsomeness” comment about the Robert Wilson trial.
Brignac replied, “I think it was a comment made by a defense attorney in passing, and it wouldn’t have bothered me if it would have been said in chambers. But when you start putting it in a formal or official pleading, particularly in a murder case, it demeans the process.”
He continued, “Think of the jurors who served on that jury and convicted someone of murder. They based that on the evidence and testimony and not on the looks of anyone in the room, but I might have to consider in the future holding some beauty pageants.”
Brignac was then asked about the new law requiring unanimous verdicts and replied, “I hope it works.”
He added, “It’s going to be intertesting because we have had a lot of jury verdicts where it was a split verdict and not unanimous, but I believe with all my heart, they got it right and the person was guilty.”
“That’s the law now, and, more importantly, that was the law in 48 out of 50 states. It’s hard to argue if they can do it under those terms then why can’t we. I think it might take a transition.”