Lafayette prosecutor seeks to halt civil suit in Fontenot case

Seth Fontenot Show caption
Seth Fontenot

Victim’s parents seek compensation from accused killer

The prosecutor in Seth Fontenot’s first-degree murder case has asked a judge to freeze proceedings in a wrongful death lawsuit the parents of teen victim Austin Rivault filed against Fontenot, his mother and his stepfather.

Mark Garber, chief prosecutor in the Fontenot case, said in papers filed this week in state District Court that the civil lawsuit Kevin and Renee Rivault filed in February could affect the prosecution of Fontenot in criminal court.

Austin Rivault was 15 and a freshman at St. Thomas More Catholic High School when he was shot and killed by Fontenot after midnight on Feb. 10, 2013.

Rivault was passenger in a truck when Fontenot fired a 9 mm three times at the vehicle.

Two other teens in the truck, William Bellamy, also a St. Thomas More student, and Cole Kelley, a Teurlings Catholic High School student, were each hit once with the same type hollow-point bullets that killed Rivault, investigators said.

Fontenot told detectives he believed someone had broken into his truck, and that he shot his Beretta handgun at the truck’s tail lights to scare the boys, not kill them.

A Lafayette Parish grand jury Feb. 21 indicted Fontenot on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.

The Rivaults filed the civil suit against Fontenot, his mother Brooke Talbot, his stepfather Derrick Talbot and the company insuring the family and their home. The suit, filed Feb. 4, claims the Talbots were negligent in allowing Fontenot to have the Beretta and that they failed to provide training and supervision.

The Rivaults say they’ve lost much since their son was killed and that they suffer from anxiety and continue to grieve.

In court papers filed Tuesday, Garber said Fontenot is now asking witnesses and victims in the murder case — including Kelley and Bellamy — to answer questions in the civil case, a procedure called discovery.

Garber asked Judge Ed Rubin to order a halt to lawsuit proceedings while the criminal case proceeds.

“(The) discovery attempt by (Fontenot) would adversely affect the ability of the district attorney to conduct a related criminal investigation, could interfere and harass victims and witnesses in the pending criminal prosecution and would compel the office of the district attorney to attend and participate in all such discovery,” Garber wrote.

Garber said Austin Rivault’s parents also do not have possession of, or access to, all the evidence prosecutors have shared with Fontenot and his attorneys, Thomas Guilbeau and Katherine Guilbeau Guillot, so the Rivaults “would be unable to properly defend the state’s interest” in the case, he said.

Fontenot was 18 at the time of the shooting. He is now 20 and out of jail on bond. He and his family have moved out of the Green Meadow Road home where the shooting occurred.

He is scheduled for trial Sept. 22.

In a related development, Guilbeau again is asking for the results of felony background checks conducted last year on members of the Lafayette Parish grand jury that indicted Fontenot.

Early on in Fontenot’s criminal proceedings, Judge Kristian Earles denied Guilbeau’s request to check the backgrounds on grand jury members. But Earles granted the request at a hearing on Aug. 29.

Earles ordered the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court’s Office to provide grand jurors’ names and birthdates to the Sheriff’s Office, which submitted the information to a national registry of felons.

Although Earles is no longer the judge in the Fontenot case, Guilbeau asked Earles to reveal if any of the jurors had been convicted of one or more felonies.

“To date, Judge Kristian Earles has not advised (Fontenot) if any irregularities were found in the criminal histories of the grand jurors who returned the indictment,” Guilbeau wrote.

Grand jury members who charged indicted Fontenot are no longer on the jury.