The Louisiana House has defeated a proposed law supported by the parents of a slain Lafayette teen that would have mandated at least three years in prison for firearm-involved manslaughter convictions.
The House last week voted 50-33 to sink Senate Bill 196, sponsored by Lafayette Sen. Page Cortez and pushed by the family of Austin Rivault.
Rivault was 15 and a high school freshman when Seth Fontenot shot at him and two other 15-year-olds in February 2013 as the younger boys rode through a south Lafayette subdivision. Rivault died; the other two survived.
Fontenot spent a little over 10 months of a 13-month sentence in prison before he was released from LaSalle Correctional Center last month.
On April 27, the bill sailed through the Senate with a 33-0 vote. But the House vote on May 26 effectively killed the effort this legislative session.
It was unclear Wednesday if the victim’s parents, Kevin and Renee Rivault, will make a similar push for mandatory sentencing in spring 2017, when the Legislature next meets in regular session. The Rivaults did not return a message left at their home Wednesday.
“Clearly, the House did the right thing when they killed Sen. Cortez’s bill with 50 votes,” said Thomas Guilbeau, who is one of Fontenot’s attorneys. “It was a very bad bill.”
Fontenot, who was 18 at the time of the killing, faced life in prison in his first-degree murder trial last year. But the jury found him guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter, a conviction that carries a prison sentence of up to 40 years and is dispensed out at the discretion of the trial judge.
Leaning on doctors’ testimony during the trial that Fontenot’s brain at 18 years old was not mature enough to be held fully accountable, Judge Ed Rubin opted for the softer side of the sentencing range and ordered him to prison for 13 months.
Rubin’s sentence convinced the Rivaults to try for a change in Louisiana’s sentencing range for manslaughter. J.N. Prather, the prosecutor with 15th District Attorney’s Office who tried the case, helped Cortez and the Rivaults craft and lobby for SB196.
“I was disappointed in that it is a policy item that needs to be addressed,” Prather said of the wide zero to 40-year range.
Prather and District Attorney Keith Stutes had asked the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal to review Rubin’s sentence, claiming it was too lenient for the crime that was committed. Third Circuit Judge Sylvia Cooks and two other appellate judges found there was nothing wrong with the sentence. Cooks, who wrote the opinion, said prosecutors missed their chance at locking in a longer sentence for Fontenot when they failed to file firearm enhancement paperwork prior to the trial, which took place in March 2015.
As he has before, Prather insisted Wednesday that even if the District Attorney’s Office had filed for a sentence enhancement, it still leaves sentencing discretion to the trial judge.
Guilbeau, who remains Fontenot’s attorney, has filed papers seeking to throw out the drug charges, saying there is no evidence to back up the distribution charges.
Fontenot has a job and is living in Breaux Bridge. His plans include college, but he’ll have to get past his remaining court issues, Guilbeau said.