Bill that slain Lafayette teen’s family sought to increase manslaughter penalty fails in House _lowres

Photo provided by Justice for Austin Rivault -- Austin Rivault

Seth Fontenot said in court Friday he wants the outcome of his upcoming trial on drug distribution charges to be decided by a judge, not a jury.

Jules Edwards, the state district court judge who would render the verdict in a bench trial, granted the request of the 22-year-old.

It wasn’t that long ago that Fontenot stood trial before a jury in another matter. In May, he was released from jail after a 10-month stint for a manslaughter conviction in the 2013 shooting death of 15-year-old Austin Rivault.

In November 2013, as court proceedings were moving toward a trial in the Rivault case, 15th Judicial District Attorney prosecutors additionally charged Fontenot with two counts of distributing amphetamines.

Fontenot pleaded not guilty to the drug counts after prosecutors charged him with peddling Vyvance and Adderall to students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where Fontenot was freshman majoring in accounting. According to court records, the alleged drug deals occurred in 2012 on Oct. 12 and Dec. 6.

Friday morning, Judge Edwards asked Fontenot if he “knowingly, willingly and intelligently” waived his right to a jury. “Yes sir,” said Fontenot, who made the court appearance without his attorney, Thomas Guilbeau.

Guilbeau has maintained that prosecutors have no evidence that Fontenot illegally sold drugs to others. In April, Guilbeau filed a request asking the judge to throw out the charges. This week, Guilbeau withdrew that request and said he would argue the lack of evidence angle at a trial.

Guilbeau said in a court document that university police found just two witnesses who claimed Fontenot sold them one to two pills of Vyvance or Adderall, which are amphetamines.

“This bad faith attempt by the state to paint the defendant as a ‘drug dealer’ would be laughable if the circumstances did not involve the charge of first-degree murder,” Guilbeau wrote.

If Fontenot is convicted in the drug trial, the prison sentence for each of the two counts would stretch longer than the time he spent in prison for killing Rivault. Louisiana law states a conviction for one count of selling amphetamine, a schedule II drug, brings a sentence of two to 10 years at hard labor, and a fine of up to $50,000.

Fontenot was charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder in the Feb. 10, 2013 killing of Rivault and wounding of two other 15-year-olds. A jury in March 2015 convicted Fontenot on the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Judges in Louisiana have wide discretion in manslaughter sentences, deciding what is appropriate in a range from zero to 40 years. State District Judge Ed Rubin, citing the immaturity of Fontenot’s 18-year-old brain at the time of the shooting, meted out a sentence of 13 months. With good behavior and other discounts, Fontenot was out after a little over 10 months.

Follow Billy Gunn on Twitter, @BillyGunnAcad.