Caption

UPDATED: Newlywed man, 2 gang suspects charged in bride’s death outside Popeyes

Gang member orchestrated drug sale from prison, according to investigators

They had been married just two weeks when a late-night trip to a Popeyes restaurant changed everything. The newlyweds weren’t there for fried chicken, according to DeKalb County investigators. 

Instead, the husband and wife were there to buy meth but were robbed at gunpoint. Shots were exchanged, and when the gunfire ended, Alisha Watkins Stephens, a 35-year-old mother of three, was dead. Her spouse, Michael Dale LaVigne, was shot seven times and critically injured. 

The incident occurred on Oct. 22. Now, LaVigne has been charged with murder in his wife’s death, his indictment states. 

RELATED: Why was a newlywed couple shot at a metro Atlanta Popeyes?

The couple’s families initially had no idea why the two were at the Panola Road restaurant. Stephens lived in Fairburn, according to her online obituary, and LaVigne lived in Stockbridge, according to the police report. 

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Most read

  1. 1 GBI crime lab finds THC in food evidence from Sandtown Middle School
  2. 2 Why are African-American students still underrepresented at UGA?
  3. 3 Leadoff: Which of the Braves' spring training games will be on TV?

The following day, 19-year-old Carlos Rodriguez was arrested and charged with murder. 

“Why does anyone do such violent things?” LaVigne’s mother said days after the shooting. “He tried to blow his head off. God saved my baby’s life.” 

But according to investigators, LaVigne is responsible for killing his wife. He is now one of three men charged with murder, according to the DeKalb district attorney’s office. 

Rodriguez and the third suspect, 29-year-old Juan Carlos Ortiz, are believed to be Latin Kings gang members whose intent in the incident was to sell drugs, according to investigators. Ortiz allegedly orchestrated the drug sale while incarcerated at Hancock State Prison in Sparta, the DA’s office said. 

After Stephens and LaVigne arrived at the Popeyes to buy meth, LaVigne was robbed at gunpoint by Rodriguez, the indictment states. LaVigne also pulled out a gun and fired shots. 

While Stephens’ family planned her funeral, LaVigne underwent numerous surgeries at Grady Memorial Hospital. He was shot four times in the head, and his mother told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he couldn’t remember what happened at Popeyes. 

LaVigne’s mother, Donna White, had only recently met her new daughter-in-law but instantly liked her, she said in the days after the shooting. 

“They were so in love, just googly over each other,” White said. 

White attended the funeral for Stephens, but her son was unable to leave the hospital. 

Both Rodriguez and Ortiz are included in the 14-count indictment on charges of malice murder, felony murder, violation of street gang and terrorism prevention laws, armed robbery, aggravated assault and drugs. Rodriguez remained in the DeKalb jail late Monday, and Ortiz remains in state prison for a 2008 armed robbery conviction. 

LaVigne has twice served time in state prison, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections. Most recently, he was released in February 2018 after serving nearly two years for trafficking methamphetamine, records showed. LaVigne also served from March 2010 until July 2013 on a prior drug conviction.

Channel 2's Tyisha Fernandes spoke to the family of Alisha Watkins-Stephens, who call her a "real angel who was good to everybody."

More from AJC