Jury selection underway in Wilkins trial

By Theresa Schmidt - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - It's coming up on seven years since Tony Fontenot was stabbed to death in Carlyss--but finally after years of legal wrangling the case is coming to trial.

It was September 21st 2004 when Fontenot was found dead in the area of the Choupique boat launch in Carlyss. Investigators combed the area looking for clues.  The day after the body was found Deputy Mike Byrne said, "The folks that worked this case worked like demons all night."

Back in 2004, Sheriff Tony Mancuso described their efforts to search the area."It was the whole section of the bridge and then the boat launch itself down there. So they had a pretty wide area to comb.  We're now in the process of still gathering evidence, DNA samples, recovery of the murder weapon so we're not finished with it yet but we do have a suspect in custody.'

Eventually the investigation lead to the arrest of Robert Wilkins accused of stabbing Fontenot. Those who are witnesses or involved in prosecuting the case are tight lipped now, as the trial gets underway.  But back in '04 the sheriff explained, "It seems like, it looks like he apparently got stabbed at the vehicle and possibly tried to walk up to the road maybe to get help. Its hard to say at this point but that's the way it appears."

Wilkins was initially charged with first degree murder but in 2007 that was amended to second degree murder to help move the case forward as prosecutor Cynthia Killingsworth then explained."I don't want to have some appellate court come later on somewhere, who knows when and say that we took too long to try the cases. That's what we're trying to avoid."

And even then the case became bogged down in a quagmire of legal wrangling--causing delays that were hard on family members as Tony Fontenot's mother Julia explained back in 2007. "When you can not get to court and get justice you are being victimized all over again," she said then.

Because of conflict and recusal issues West Baton Rouge Parish attorneys, Tony Clayton and Marty Mailey are prosecuting the case along with first assistant D.A. Killingsworth.

At last word, ten prospective jurors had made it through the first round of jury selection though none are permanently seated yet. Jury selection resumes at nine tomorrow morning.

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