After Seth Fontenot fatally shot one 15-year-old boy and wounded two others in February 2013, police and prosecutors investigated the juveniles on suspicion they stole beer and tried to break into the Lafayette man’s truck before the first shot was fired.
But a judge in a closed hearing in November ruled that Fontenot’s attorneys could not use the reports or interview prosecutors as part of his defense in an upcoming trial on charges of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.
A transcript of the Nov. 3 hearing was one of the 10 remaining sealed files that on Wednesday was released to full public view. The Acadiana Advocate and KATC Communications intervened in the case last year, asking that a slew of documents be unsealed.
Judge Harry Randow, a retired state district judge from Alexandria who has been temporarily sitting in on the case, ordered the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court’s Office to unseal the files. Randow’s order came after the Lafayette Parish District Attorney’s Office withdrew its opposition to making the documents public.
Randow took over Judge Ed Rubin’s court docket while he recovers from back surgery. Last year, Rubin ordered most of the files in the Fontenot case sealed.
According to the transcript of the Nov. 3 hearing, Rubin told Fontenot attorneys Thomas Guilbeau and Katherine Guillot that they were not entitled to investigative reports that might show the three teenage victims were breaking the law. Rubin said the only way that kind of information can be used is if there is a conviction.
Fontenot is scheduled to stand trial March 16 for the deadly shooting at 1:45 a.m. Feb. 10, 2013, outside his Green Meadow Road home. Fontenot told police he heard tell-tale “popping” sounds of his truck locks being busted, looked out his bedroom window and saw two boys.
He admitted to firing his pistol at a departing truck carrying three boys — Austin Rivault, William Bellamy and the driver, Cole Kelley — who were each 15 at the time. Fontenot said he shot at the truck’s tail lights to scare the boys, not to hurt anyone. But Rivault was killed by a hollow-point 9mm bullet that hit him in the head. Bellamy and Kelley, now both 17, were each hit and injured but survived.
Much of Assistant District Attorney J.N. Prather’s opposition to opening the files has been to shield the survivors. But Prather didn’t apply for a review by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal by the deadline Friday, and alerted court officials this week that he was dropping his opposition.
In pretrial hearings and filings, Guilbeau and Guillot have suggested that a big part of their client’s defense would focus on the possible illegal acts committed by the boys in the hours before Fontenot walked outside and fired his gun.
Guilbeau told Judge Rubin at the Nov. 3 hearing that Kelley and Bellamy that night were drinking beer they stole from someone’s home, a statement Prather objected to.
“They (the boys) have not been convicted of anything. They’re not even charged with anything. The statements that (Guilbeau) is making are, in fact, not facts,” Prather told Rubin, according to the transcript.
Throughout the case’s two-year timeline, Guilbeau also has sought details about alleged agreements prosecutors made with Kelley and Bellamy, a deal Prather denied existed.
“What is your answer?” Guilbeau asked, inquiring about a deal. “Absolutely not,” Prather answered.
The nine other files unsealed Wednesday mostly are motions filed by Guilbeau seeking information on what Bellamy, Kelley and Rivault were doing in the hours and minutes before the shooting.
“It is clear from the discovery given to (Fontenot) in stages of the past six months that the alleged victims (Bellamy and Kelley) are involved in the criminal offenses of attempted burglary, simple burglary, theft, violation of curfew, unlawful operation by a person less than 17 years of age,” Guilbeau wrote in a Nov. 4, 2013, motion.
And throughout the documents and in court hearings, Prather objected to Guilbeau painting the teens as criminals.
“Throughout this criminal prosecution and even preceding it, (Guilbeau) has set forth criminal allegations attacking the character of the victims,” Prather wrote in a Sept. 18, 2014 motion.
“The physical evidence and testimony unequivocally refutes such spurious allegations made by the defense which are asserted solely for the purpose of attacking the character of the victims,” Prather wrote. “Such character assassination is not allowed under the code of criminal procedure with respect to victims of any crimes.”
A July 30, 2014, file contains police narratives on what officers learned after being called to Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, where Kelley and Bellamy’s injuries were treated, and where Rivault was pronounced dead.
Bellamy, who was being treated for a bullet wound to his neck, told Officer Charles Broussard that he remembered riding around and “the next thing he remembered was his ears started ringing.”
Detective Larry Theriot, who became lead investigator in the case, talked to Kelley at the hospital. Kelley told Theriot that the three boys were riding around when “a naked white man” shot at their vehicle. It was a reference to Fontenot, who ran out of his house wearing underwear and red Converse sneakers. In a later interview, Kelley repeatedly told Theriot that he did not stop the truck in front of Fontenot’s home, and that no one got out of the truck once that night until they reached Lourdes.