Seth Fontenot will be back before a judge for resentencing next week in the 2013 shooting death of 15-year-old Austin Rivault and injuries to two other teenagers. But it’s uncertain whether there will be any substantive change in a 13-month prison sentence that prosecutors and the victims’ family members decried as too lenient.
State Judge Edward Rubin handed down the 13-month term Wednesday on charges of manslaughter and aggravated battery — a sentence far below the maximum 40 years Fontenot faced.
Prosecutors filed notice the next day that they would appeal the sentence as illegal, but the appeal appears moot after Fontenot’s defense acknowledged technical problems with the sentence in court filings Tuesday.
Rubin is scheduled to resentence Fontenot July 23.
At issue is a provision of state law that bars a judge from suspending any portion of a sentence for “crimes of violence,” a list that includes manslaughter and aggravated battery.
The judge sentenced Fontenot to three years in prison on a manslaughter charge for Rivault’s death and on two counts of aggravated battery for injuries to Cole Kelley and William Bellamy, who were both 15 at the time of the shooting.
But the judge suspended all but 13 months of the sentence, meaning the effective jail term is 13 months minus any credit for good behavior.
Fontenot defense attorney Thomas Guilbeau said he will ask Rubin to make the sentence a straight 13 months, which would address the legal question about the suspended sentence.
But bringing the case back before the judge opens the door for prosecutors to push for more prison time.
Prosecutor J.N. Prather declined comment on his planned strategy at next week’s sentencing hearing or what other avenues he might pursue in trying to secure a stiffer sentence.
“We are considering all options,” he said, commenting that he believes the 13-month sentence sends the wrong message about the repercussions of youth gun violence.
Rubin justified the sentence at last week’s hearing as appropriate, considering what the jury found in March: that Fontenot did not intend to kill Rivault.
Fontenot was tried on charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, but the jury found him guilty of the lesser charges of manslaughter and aggravated battery.
The judge also said psychologists’ testimony in the March trial convinced him that Fontenot’s young brain — he is 21 now but was 18 at the time of the shooting — was not developed enough to make sound decisions when he pulled the trigger.
Fontenot testified at trial that he intended only to scare away who he thought were thieves trying to break into his truck outside his family’s Green Meadow Road home in south Lafayette.
Kelley and Bellamy, who survived the shooting, testified at Fontenot’s trial that they were driving Rivault to his home just a few doors down from where Fontenot lived and had no idea why someone was shooting at them.