LAFAYETTE — State district Judge Ed Rubin on Monday told The Acadiana Advocate not to publish information from sealed court documents in the Seth Fontenot murder case, a warning issued the same day the newspaper ran a story using a transcribed account of Fontenot’s first interview with police.
The newspaper’s story was based on documents filed into the court record, apparently in error.
Rubin, who made the statement about news coverage in his Lafayette Parish courtroom, said the newspaper must receive his approval before going to press with sealed information in the Fontenot case.
A reporter who does not follow the 15th Judicial District judge’s directive “does so at your own peril,” Rubin said.
Rubin made the comments at a motions hearing for Fontenot, who is scheduled to go to trial Dec. 1 on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.
As he did at a hearing for Fontenot in September, Rubin on Monday cleared the courtroom of media and other spectators. But before doing so, he issued the warning to The Acadiana Advocate, the only media outlet that had a reporter at the hearing.
It is unusual for hearings involving an adult defendant like Fontenot, 20, to be closed to the public.
Along with closing these sessions, most of the motions filed in the case have been blocked from public access.
Rubin said Monday that he wants the case files to remain sealed because the case involves juvenile victims and also because he fears widespread media accounts could poison the jury pool.
Fontenot is accused of killing 15-year-old Austin Rivault and wounding two other teens early Feb. 10, 2013, by firing a 9 mm Beretta at a truck they were in. According to a transcript of his initial interview with Lafayette police detectives, Fontenot acknowledged firing his weapon, saying he believed the teenagers were breaking into his truck. Fontenot told detectives he was tired of being ripped off, and that he fired at the truck as it sped away from his Green Meadow Road home about 1:45 a.m.
The Acadiana Advocate’s story on Monday was based on the transcribed interview by Lafayette police detectives of Fontenot hours after Rivault was shot and killed. Rivault was a freshman at St. Thomas More Catholic High School.
The article also described information that Cole Kelly, another teenager in the truck, gave to detectives.
Kelly, 15 at the time and a freshman at Teurlings Catholic High School, drove the vehicle that sped away from Fontenot as he methodically fired the handgun.
Kelly was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg and quickly released. Another passenger, William Bellamy, who at the time also was a freshman at St. Thomas More, was treated for a more serious gunshot wound.
On Monday, Rubin wanted to know why the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court’s Office didn’t seal the interview documents from public view.
Sally Lane, who supervises the criminal section for the Clerk of Court’s Office, testified that her employees didn’t know the document should have been placed under seal.
Lane asked that Fontenot’s attorney, Thomas Guilbeau, and prosecutor J.N. Prather label future files with an unmistakable “Under Seal” in the first line of the document’s title.
The trial is scheduled to begin with jury selection Dec. 1.