Former Principal Acquitted in Murder of Football Coach
LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) _ A jury acquitted a former junior high school principal Wednesday of charges that he murdered a football coach in a rivalry for the affections of the school secretary.
Hurley Fontenot, 48, former principal of Hull-Daisetta Woodson Junior High School, had been charged with murder in the April 12 shooting death of Billy Mac Fleming, 36, who coached and taught math and science at the school.
The standing room-only crowd at the Polk County Courthouse cheered when the verdict, reached in 12 1/2 hours over two days, was read. Fontenot, who said he was ″very thrilled,″ hugged his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, and then his wife, Geneva, and daughter, Vanessa.
″I have always been innocent, and now my innocence has been proved,″ he said.
Faye Fleming, mother of the slain coach, left the courtroom sobbing but stopped to tell Fontenot, ″You killed my son and I don’t doubt it for one single, solitary second.″
Conviction would have carried a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Prosecutor David Walker said the verdict disappointed him.
″I feel, and have always felt, that Hurley Fontenot killed Bill Fleming, but 12 people made a decision that he did not, so he is free to go home,″ Walker said.
Jury foreman Larry Renfro said the panel had a difficult time reaching a decision.
″It was a very tough decision to make, but we had to go with the law. We can’t speculate,″ Renfro said. ″We could only base our decision on the evidence that was presented to us. But that doesn’t mean that some of us still don’t think that he did it. It was just not proven beyond a reasonable doubt.″
The jury earlier in the day had asked to rehear testimony from a Liberty County sheriff’s investigator about a receipt from a Crosby-area motel where Fleming spent the night with Laura Nugent, 36, the school secretary.
Copies of the receipt were mailed with several anonymous letters that prosecutors said were ″very derogatory″ about the relationship between Fleming and Mrs. Nugent. Two of Fontenot’s fingerprints were found on the original receipt and a motel clerk said Fontenot had obtained a copy of it. The jury also asked to rehear the testimony of the clerk.
″If they can be convinced that he wrote those letters, then they’ll be convinced that he killed Bill Fleming,″ Polk County District Attorney Peter Speers said.
Fontenot had waited in the courtroom for the verdict with his family. The dead coach’s parents and his estranged wife, Lynda, sat near them.
Mrs. Nugent had arrived at the courthouse after the jurors began deliberating Tuesday night, but was absent Wednesday.
Fontenot, who testified he had no reason to kill Fleming, said he gave the coach a ride to the school fieldhouse on the day he was last seen alive. Afterward, he said he drove to Houston to meet his daughter at the airport. When she never arrived, he said he drove to the horse races in Louisiana.
Defense attorneys also claimed Liberty County investigators were trying to frame Fontenot for a murder he did not commit, saying they discarded or ignored evidence that pointed to other suspects.
Prosecutors, however, insisted Fontenot, who once dated Mrs. Nugent, was jealous of Fleming because he planned to marry her.
They alleged Fontenot lured Fleming to his pickup truck by saying he needed help with furniture he was going to move for his daughter.
Prosecutors alleged that Fontenot shot the coach twice in the back of the head with a .22-caliber pistol, shoved the body in a camper shell he had borrowed from the school, drove for nearly 12 hours to establish a phony alibi and dumped Fleming’s body in a densely forested area near Livingston.