The Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court’s Office on Wednesday unsealed most of the files in the Seth Fontenot murder case, but kept some of the documents hidden pending an appeal requested by prosecutors.
The unsealed files were almost all documents The Advocate had seen and reported on before Judge Ed Rubin last year closed the entire case file and barred the public and media from attending hearings. Fontenot, 20, is awaiting trial for fatally shooting Austin Rivault and wounding two of his 15-year-old friends as the boys drove away in a truck from the Lafayette man’s Green Meadow Road home.
In December, The Advocate and KATC Communications intervened, seeking access to the records and to court hearings. The media outlets argued there was no legal reason to keep the information secret.
Judge Harry Randow, a retired judge who is temporarily sitting in for Rubin while he is out on medical leave, for a second time on Friday ordered the clerk’s office to unseal all the files. However, Randow did make an exception for 10 documents that contain information about the teenage boys who survived the February 2013 shooting.
Randow said he believed the remaining 10 documents are public and should be unsealed, but he allowed time for Assistant District Attorney J.N. Prather to ask the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal to review that decision. Prather asked to keep the remaining documents sealed because they contain sensitive information.
A computer system malfunction Friday prevented release of the records, and the Mardi Gras holidays kept Clerk of Court employees away from work until Wednesday.
One key sealed document that was released has already been reported on: the police interview of Fontenot after the shooting. Fontenot told detectives he woke up after hearing a noise at 1:45 a.m. Feb. 10, 2013, and believed someone was breaking into his vehicle. Fontenot said his family had been plagued by vehicle burglaries.
Fontenot grabbed his 9 mm Beretta pistol and went outside wearing only underwear and red Converse sneakers, according to one of the documents in the case.
“I shot … and then I shot … and then I shot. It wasn’t bam bam bam,” Fontenot told Lafayette police Detective Larry Theriot later that morning, describing firing three shots in 1½- to 2-second intervals at a truck in which Rivault, driver Cole Kelley and William Bellamy sped away. The three bullets each found a victim. Kelley and Bellamy were hit but survived. Rivault was killed.
In a separate interview with police, Kelley said they were just passing by Fontenot’s house when they were shot and had not gotten out of the truck.
The police interviews were not sealed after they were filed Sept. 18, a mistake made by the Clerk of Court’s Office. The Advocate published a story based on the documents, and Rubin at a Nov. 3 hearing warned media members against publishing stories based on sealed information.
The clerk’s office later sealed those documents, then on Wednesday included them in the batch of records opened after Randow’s order.
In an Oct. 13 letter to the Clerk of Court’s Office requesting subpoenas, Fontenot’s attorney Thomas Guilbeau wrote he wanted information about any police investigation of Kelley, Bellamy and Rivault in the alleged break-in of Fontenot’s truck. The subpoenas also requested information on Rivault and Bellamy’s involvement in an alleged house burglary, and on Rivault, Bellamy and Kelley’s role in beer thefts that night.
The Oct. 13 subpoenas were issued to Lafayette Police Detectives Larry Theriot and Jason Migues, the detectives in the Fontenot case, and to Assistant District Attorney Christine Roberts. All three were summoned to appear at a Nov. 3 hearing that was closed to the public.
A transcript of that hearing is one of the documents that Randow held off on ordering unsealed while the 3rd Circuit considers reviewing the case.
Rubin is scheduled to be back on the bench by March 16, the current trial date.