Seth Fontenot in October offered to plead guilty to negligent homicide in Austin Rivault’s killing two years ago, a conviction that would bring a far less severe punishment than first-degree murder’s life in prison that Fontenot now faces.
The offer apparently was rebuffed by the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, whose prosecutors have been forbidden from talking to the media about the case. Fontenot is scheduled to go to trial March 16 on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder in the February 2013 shooting of Rivault and two of his friends, who survived.
Fontenot’s offer was contained in an affidavit that came to light this week along with reams of other documents unsealed after The Advocate and KATC Communications went to court to pry open the Fontenot files.
Fontenot has never claimed he didn’t shoot at the truck that sped away from his Green Meadow Road home at just before 2 a.m. Feb. 10, 2013. Fontenot, who was 18 at the time, told detectives his and his mom’s vehicles had been broken into before and that he was awoken that morning by the sound of his truck locks being popped.
He told detectives he didn’t mean to kill or hurt anybody and that he methodically shot at the moving truck’s tail lights in an attempt to scare the teens.
“I am not guilty of the offense of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter,” Fontenot said in the Oct. 31 document.
“I am, however, guilty of the offense of negligent homicide,” he said.
Prosecutors said early on in the case they wouldn’t pursue the death penalty, which is a possibility with a first-degree murder charge. But if the jury finds Fontenot guilty of first-degree murder or reaches a decision to convict him of second-degree murder, he’ll automatically be sentenced to life in prison at hard labor with no parole or early release. If the jury finds Fontenot guilty of manslaughter, he faces up to 40 years in prison.
For the two attempted murder charges, Fontenot faces 10 to 50 years in prison at hard labor if he’s convicted.
“If the state of Louisiana will amend the charge of first-degree murder presently pending against me … to that of negligent homicide I agree that I will plead guilty to the charge of negligent homicide,” Fontenot said. “I will agree to make (the) plea to negligent homicide an (open-ended) plea with the terms and conditions of the sentence to be totally within the discretion of the sentencing judge.”
According to Louisiana statutes, a conviction for negligent homicide brings a sentence of up to five years, with or without hard labor.
The affidavit is among dozens of files a judge unsealed as a result of The Advocate and KATC Communications pursuing court action to overturn Judge Ed Rubin’s blanket closure last year of the entire case file. Rubin also shut off media access to court hearings.
This month, after a legal tug-of-war in open court, visiting judge Harry Randow ruled that the files belong in public view and ordered the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court’s Office to open the records. But Randow made an exception for certain files that Assistant District Attorney J.N. Prather argued should remain closed because they contain details of the two survivors who were juveniles at the time. Prather said the teens should not be subjected to media scrutiny.
Prather said he was to have filed a request Friday with the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal to keep the records sealed.