Jury selection resumes Wednesday in Seth Fontenot’s murder trial after 11 jurors were chosen Tuesday from a pool of 50, an all-day session during which Fontenot’s attorney said the death of 15-year-old Austin Rivault was accidental.
Fontenot’s attorneys, Thomas Guilbeau and Katherine Guillot, along with prosecutors J.N. Prather and Royal Colbert will question more potential jurors Wednesday morning and select three more for a jury of 12 with two alternates. The 11 jurors picked Tuesday were nine women and two men.
Judge Ed Rubin said the full jury should be seated before noon, with opening statements after lunch and the first witnesses testifying by midafternoon.
Fontenot faces life in prison if he’s convicted of first-degree murder in killing Rivault, who was riding in a truck with two other 15-year-olds early Feb. 10, 2013. Fontenot told detectives he aimed at the truck’s tail lights and pulled the trigger of his 9 mm Baretta three times to scare the boys, who he believed were burglarizing his vehicle.
Fontenot also faces two counts of attempted first-degree murder in the wounding of the two other boys in the truck, William Bellamy and Cole Kelley, both now 17.
Soon after Fontenot was indicted in February 2013, the District Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue the death penalty.
Guilbeau told potential jurors that during the trial Fontenot would not make a claim of justifiable homicide in Rivault’s death. Nor would Fontenot claim he shot three times at the truck in self-defense. Guilbeau asked the panel whether they believed it was plausible that Fontenot, 20, killed one and wounded two accidentally.
“This case could actually be an accidental killing,” Guilbeau said. “We will put on evidence to show it was an accidental killing.
“It’s your duty to give (Fontenot) the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
The jury also could find Fontenot guilty of second-degree murder, which too is an automatic life sentence with chance of parole, or manslaughter, which carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison. A conviction for attempted murder also could mean decades behind bars.
Prather, the lead prosecutor, said Fontenot was on trial for first-degree murder because he tried to inflict “great bodily harm” on more than one person when he killed Rivault and wounded the other boys. Prather said that although it’s up to judges to sentence people who have been convicted, a jury that renders a first-degree murder conviction effectively puts a person behind bars for life. The judge has no say-so in the sentence if the jury returns with first- or second-degree murder convictions.
“Can you do that? That’s the question,” Prather said.
Ten of the 12 jurors are needed to convict Fontenot of the charges.
On Tuesday, Rubin excused one juror prospect whose wife’s parents and sister were murdered. The man told Rubin that the jury selection process had dredged up memories strong enough that he doubted he could sit in fair judgment of Fontenot. Rubin excused another man whose son is awaiting trial for murder.
As with almost all other hearings over the past two years in the Fontenot case, Rivault’s parents and other family members sat through the proceeding Tuesday.