Judge rejects murder suspect Fontenot's request for jurors' backgrounds

A state judge rejected Seth Fontenot’s request Thursday for a national criminal background check for felons who might have served on the grand jury that indicted the former University of Louisiana at Lafayette freshman on charges that could put him in prison for life.

Judge Kristian Earles, of the 15th Judicial District, granted Fontenot 30 additional days to file objections over the makeup of the grand jury, which indicted Fontenot on Feb. 21 on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Fontenot’s attorney, Thomas Guilbeau, has challenged the integrity of the grand jury in a motion that indicated mistakes could have been made when the jury was empaneled in October.

Guilbeau told the judge his office checked the names of grand jury members, which turned up the names of some known felons.

Guilbeau said he didn’t know if any of the people with felony records were actually on the grand jury, and said a court-sanctioned national search could resolve the question.

Earles rejected that request.

“I think it is mere suspicion at this point, that’s why I’m giving you 30 extra days,” Earles said.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Garber, who is prosecuting the Fontenot case, said Guilbeau was impugning the grand jury by suggesting some members may have lied about their prior criminal histories in interviews they gave before being seated.

“This is all being sought on grounds to quash the indictment,” Garber said.

Garber also has filed a motion seeking a gag order preventing those involved in the case from talking about it, including to the press.

Guilbeau told Earles on Thursday he and Garber had agreed not to talk to media.

Fontenot was arrested Feb. 10 for the early morning shooting of three 15-year-old boys, killing one of them.

Fontenot told police he wasn’t trying kill them.

“Mr. Fontenot stated that his intentions were only to scare the victims, not to inflict bodily harm and/or death,” a Lafayette police detective wrote in an affidavit.

The affidavit said Fontenot told police he fired three shots at a fleeing truck “he believed to contain suspects” he had seen on his property.

Police reports indicate in the months before the shooting, burglars twice broke into vehicles at the home Fontenot shared with his stepfather, mother and sister on Green Meadow Road.

The shooting, which occurred around 1:45 a.m., killed Austin Rivault, a freshman at St. Thomas More Catholic High School, and wounded William Bellamy and Cole Kelley.

One of the boys — records do not indicate who was driving the truck — drove to Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center for treatment.

Guilbeau has filed a motion seeking video surveillance recordings at the Lourdes emergency room on the morning of the shooting.

According to the motion, the video showed Bellamy and Kelley getting out of the truck wearing clothes that Fontenot described to police as being worn by people who had been on his and his neighbors’ property that morning.

The video also showed hospital personnel pulling Rivault’s body out of the truck, the motion said.

Earles did not rule on the video motion Thursday, and Guilbeau said officials at Lourdes assured him the recording would be preserved.

Fontenot, who is out of jail after friends and family pledged land and paid cash to post bail of $700,000, has filed court papers claiming he can’t afford to pay for an investigator for his defense. The filing seeks government assistance in retaining an investigator.

Court papers did not specify an amount that would be needed, but any funds would have to come from the budget of the Public Defender’s Office.

Earles delayed ruling on the request Thursday, saying he wanted Guilbeau to list “specific needs.”

“I have a problem with him (Fontenot) being classified as a pauper,” Earles said.