For the second time this month, family members of shooting victim Austin Rivault left the courtroom of state District Judge Ed Rubin disappointed that the man convicted of killing the 15-year-old boy in February 2013 was sentenced to 13 months in prison.
“It’s the same bull that’s been going on,” the victim’s father, Kevin Rivault, said after the Thursday hearing.
Rubin’s decision to sentence Seth Fontenot to just over a year was essentially the same one he handed Fontenot on July 8, when he sentenced the 21-year-old to three years in prison at hard labor but then suspended all but 13 months. Rubin set the hearing for Thursday to correct what both prosecution and defense attorneys acknowledged was an error in the sentence, which occurred when Rubin suspended part of a sentence meted out in a crime of violence.
“I’m certainly not comfortable with the outcome,” 15th Judicial District Attorney Keith Stutes said after the hearing. “Unfortunately … the state cannot appeal a sentence it does not agree with.”
One of Fontenot’s attorneys said the sentence was appropriate.
“A judge’s duty is to look at all the facts and circumstances,” Thomas Guilbeau said. “(Rubin) tailored an individual sentence for Seth Fontenot to fit the circumstances.”
Rubin said the days Fontenot already has spent in jail will be credited toward his 13-month sentence. Rubin also ruled Fontenot would not be put on probation following his prison time, which was included in the original sentence.
Unlike at his previous court appearances, when Fontenot wore wear slacks and a tie, on Thursday, he was outfitted in the pink- and white-striped prison garb of the St. Martin Parish Correctional Center, where the state Department of Corrections is holding him. His wrists chained to his waist and his ankles bound too, Fontenot in bright-orange Crocs shuffled his feet as he walked to his seat in the courtroom.
Rubin also sentenced Fontenot to two, 13-month prison terms for the aggravated battery convictions in the wounding of two other victims. Rubin said the aggravated battery sentences would be served at the same time as the manslaughter sentence.
Assistant District Attorney J.N. Prather Jr., who became lead prosecutor in May 2014 after Mark Garber quit the DA’s Office, said he believed the 13-month sentence was too lenient.
“What signal are you sending to the people in the community?” he asked.
Stutes filed documents last week and on Monday asking Rubin to stick with his original sentence of three years at hard labor but without suspending any of the jail time.
Prather and Stutes said Fontenot could be out of jail by Christmas if he qualifies for good-time early release. Guilbeau said Fontenot likely would be released from jail in summer 2016.
About 1:45 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2013, Fontenot grabbed his 9 mm Baretta handgun, ran outside his family’s Green Meadow Road home in south Lafayette and fired three shots at a Chevrolet Silverado he believed was carrying thieves. Fontenot told police he saw someone breaking into his Chevrolet Avalanche. Inside the Silverado were three 15-year-old boys, including Rivault. All three were hit; Rivault’s wound to the back of his head was fatal. The other two victims survived to testify at Fontenot’s trial in March.
A grand jury charged Fontenot with first-degree murder, which carries a sentence of life in prison or death by lethal injection if convicted, and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. A jury in March found Fontenot guilty of the lesser crimes of manslaughter and aggravated battery.
At the July 8 sentencing hearing, there was hardly a dry eye in the courtroom during emotional, sometimes wrenching testimony. Rivault’s parents, Kevin and Renee, and his sister Amanda were among those who asked Rubin to sentence Fontenot to the maximum 40 years for manslaughter. Also testifying were Fontenot’s mother, Brooke Talbot, who asked for leniency, and Fontenot himself, who said that in the years since the shooting, he’s felt like a monster.
Rubin said he was swayed by the trial jury’s opinion that Fontenot did not mean to kill anyone in February 2013. Rubin also was persuaded by psychologists’ testimony that Fontenot’s 18-year-old brain at the time was not mature enough to make adult decisions while holding a loaded, lethal weapon.
On Thursday, Rubin was succinct: “I took into consideration the law,” he said.
Kevin and Renee Rivault are working with local legislators to establish minimum sentences for those convicted of violent crimes.
Renee Rivault said Rubin’s sentence for the young man who killed her son was noticed by many.
“We didn’t expect any more justice than we got today,” she said. “I think its a really dangerous statement that (Rubin’s) making.”