Prosecutors seek judge’s recusal in Fontenot case

A bail reduction hearing scheduled for Seth Fontenot was postponed Wednesday after prosecutors questioned whether the judge is too close to some people involved in Fontenot’s capital murder case.

State District Judge Herman Clause disclosed that he has distant connections to two people closely tied to the case where Fontenot, 18, is accused of shooting at a fleeing pickup truck Feb. 10, killing a 15-year-old high school freshman and injuring two other teens.

Clause disclosed that he was a family friend of the mother of one of the two injured teens, a woman he said he hadn’t spoken to in 30 years. Clause also said Fontenot’s girlfriend attends the same church as he does, though he doesn’t know her.

Jay Prather, an assistant district attorney, said Clause’s disclosure was new to him and Assistant District Attorney Mark Garber.

Garber told Clause that “out of an abundance of caution” the District Attorney’s Office planned to file papers to have Clause recused from handling the matter. Prosecutors were told to have the motion filed before 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Clause reset the bond reduction hearing for 1:30 p.m. Thursday, but it is undetermined whether he will remain the judge in the highly charged drama.

An overflow crowd caused 15th Judicial Court District officials to relocate twice to larger courtrooms to accommodate the 150 to 200 spectators who attended.

Lafayette police have said in an affidavit that Fontenot confessed to firing three shots at a fleeing vehicle “he believed to contain suspects” whom he had seen on his property, where his truck had been broken into multiple times.

“Mr. Fontenot stated that his intentions were to only scare the victims, not to inflict bodily harm and/or death,” Detective Larry Theriot wrote in the affidavit.

Fontenot’s sister, mother, stepfather and other family members sat in the row immediately behind a tearful Fontenot, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit and sandals and shackled at the wrists and ankles.

On the row behind the prosecutors were the mother, father and other family members of Austin Rivault, the St. Thomas More Catholic High School student who died Feb. 10.

Family members and friends of the defendant and the victim declined to comment outside the courtroom.

Fontenot’s attorney, Thomas Guilbeau, said prosecutors were employing delay tactics designed to keep his client in jail “wrongfully.”

Fontenot is being held on one count of first-degree murder, for which no bail has been set, and two counts of attempted first-degree murder, which each carry bail amounts of $500,000.

Guilbeau filed motions last week seeking a hearing to set the murder charge bail at $25,000 and each of the attempted murder charges at $12,500.

“My client’s been in jail for 10 days, wrongfully,” Guilbeau said Wednesday after the bail reduction hearing was postponed. “… This is just about delay, delay, delay.”

Guilbeau said prosecutors want to keep Fontenot in jail until a grand jury convenes in mid-March.

Fontenot has not been formally charged by the District Attorney’s Office or by a grand jury, though he is being held in jail without bond in a capital murder case.

Outside the courtroom, Guilbeau said that a more appropriate charge against Fontenot would be negligent homicide or manslaughter.

Fontenot was arrested outside the River Ranch restaurant where he was employed at just before noon Feb. 10, a Sunday.

In the affidavit leading to Fontenot’s arrest, a Lafayette police detective wrote that in the dark, early hours of Feb. 10, Fontenot used a Beretta handgun to fire three shots at a fleeing pickup truck. Inside the truck were Rivault and the two other teens, whom police have not identified.

Guilbeau said that after Fontenot was arrested, he gave a 65-page statement to police. “He wasn’t told until page 9 that he killed a guy,” Guilbeau said.

Editor’s note: The article was changed on Feb. 21 to correct Mark Garber’s title.