Seth Fontenot will take the witness stand and testify in his first-degree murder trial to try to convince a jury that the 9 mm shots he fired two years ago that killed a 15-year-old boy and wounded two others was an accident.
Fontenot’s attorney, Thomas Guilbeau, was finishing opening statements when he revealed his client will take the stand at his trial this week on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.
“We’re going to put him on the stand and explain in detail what he did that night. This was a tragic, accidental shooting,” Guilbeau told the jury of 11 women and three men. Two of the jurors are alternates.
Guilbeau and Assistant District Attorney J.N. Prather finished jury selection Wednesday around 4 p.m. after two days of vetting, which netted the final 14 jurors from a pool of 75 who were questioned. Judge Ed Rubin allowed opening statements before adjourning for the day Wednesday.
Fontenot faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Austin Rivault, a St. Thomas More Catholic High School freshman killed by a bullet to the back of his head, a hollow point round fired by Fontenot from his 9 mm Baretta minutes before 2 a.m. Feb. 10, 2013.
Two other 15-year-old Catholic high school freshmen were with Rivault that early morning, and both were hit but survived: Cole Kelly, the driver of a truck he borrowed at a party to drive Rivault home, and William Bellamy, who rode shotgun. Kelley is a Teurlings Catholic High School student and Bellamy is from St. Thomas More.
Kelley, who was hit in one of his ankles, still carries the bullet in his leg. And Bellamy, who was shot in the neck, walks around now with the bullet in his jaw, Prather said, explaining that doctors have opted to leave the bullets alone for now.
Fontenot told Lafayette detectives that he awoke that Sunday morning to the tell-tale sound of locks being popped on his truck, leading him to believe burglars again had targeted his property. Police had been called to Fontenot’s house at 132 Green Meadow Road in south Lafayette four times in the months before to investigate vehicle break-ins.
He ran outside and fired three times at a truck that was driving away from him. Fontenot told detectives he shot at the truck’s tail lights only to scare the boys.
Kelley, who like Bellamy is now 17, had never been to that neighborhood. Kelley and Bellamy were driving Rivault from a party to his home just a few doors down from the Green Meadow Road home where Fontenot lived.
Prather told jurors that Rivault was leaning over to the front seat and pointing to where he lived when bullets started tearing through the truck. Kelley, shot and lost because he’d never been to that neighborhood before, tried to find his way out of the subdivision.
Kelley eventually found his way to Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center’s emergency room, where he and Bellamy were treated, and Rivault was pronounced dead.
Prather told the jurors they will hear from a crime scene detective who could not find the boys’ fingerprints or DNA on Fontenot’s truck, which would contradict what Fontenot told detectives about them breaking into his Chevrolet Avalanche.
Prather also said Fontenot’s statement that he shot at the truck’s tail lights would be proven false because the first shot, the one that hit Kelley, was fired from the side of the truck, not the rear. And two bullet holes in the victims’ rear window show Fontenot didn’t shoot at the tail lights, Prather said, calling them “head shots.”
“Three shots, three hits,” he said. Prather also warned jury members they’d see some “pretty rough photos” of Rivault’s body.
Fontenot faces years in prison if he’s convicted. The jury could find him guilty of first-degree murder, which he was charged with by a grand jury in February 2013. The jury also could find him guilty of second-degree murder, which also carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole. Or, the jury could convict him of manslaughter, which carries a sentence of up to 40 years. Judge Rubin would decide the sentence length if manslaughter is the verdict.
Fontenot also faces decades in prison for the attempted murder charges.
The trial resumes Thursday at 9:15 a.m. with prosecution witness testimony.