It took 15 years to overturn Calvin Burdine's death sentence, but at last, in 2001, the federal appeals court in New Orleans accepted a defendant's right to an attorney who remains awake at trial.

It now seems odd that there should ever have been any doubt that a sleeping attorney cannot provide the effective counsel guaranteed by the Constitution.

But at least there was always a chance that Burdine's attorney, Joe Cannon, would suddenly open his eyes and shout “Objection!” When Kevin Daigle goes on trial for his life, however, he knows there is no chance his attorney, David Price, will participate in proceedings.

After Price died last month, Daigle sought more time to prepare for trial, but prosecutors objected and state Judge Guy Bradberry ordered that it take place as scheduled Sept. 18.

Daigle, of Lake Charles, is accused of murdering state trooper Steven Vincent two years ago. Daigle, then 54, allegedly opened fired when his truck got stuck in a ditch and Vincent stopped to help. Daigle, whose roommate was subsequently found murdered, was evidently out of his mind on drink and painkillers at the time. His lengthy rap sheet includes multiple DWIs, and he is such a blot on humanity that it will require some pretty fancy lawyering if he is to be spared the death sentence.


Acquittal seems out of the question. Daigle was caught on police radio threatening Vincent and was then taken in, together with a sawed-off shotgun, after passing motorists pinned him down. Assistant Calcasieu Parish District Attorney Rick Bryant can keep his powder dry until the penalty phase of the trial, which Price was presumably focused on when he suffered a heart attack following cancer surgery.

The loss of Price, with his years of experience as a public defender in capital cases, may make it somewhat easier for Bryant to sell the jury on death, but he wasn't about to give Daigle any chance to regroup. Bradberry noted that Price's death was not unexpected, he had been repeatedly assured that the trial could proceed on schedule regardless, and “justice delayed is justice denied.” Kyla Romanach, who had been working under Price, does not need any more time to prepare “exceptional representation during the trial,” and Daigle has “more than enough information to provide an effective mitigation defense,” Bradberry ruled.


Maybe so, but the state also has more than enough information to press for Daigle's death. The state's case can surely withstand a delay. And Romanach will be saving the taxpayer a whole bunch of money if she can keep Daigle off death row.

The outcome of the case is easy to predict. Daigle will be found guilty of first-degree murder, and die in Angola. But if the jury comes back with a death sentence, we will have to cough up for extra security and appeals while he keeps the executioner at bay until succumbing to natural causes decades hence. Better to give him life in the first place.

Certainly, Daigle deserves the worst the criminal justice system can throw at him, and a death sentence is a powerful symbol of society's revulsion. But capital punishment is withering away in Louisiana.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976, Louisiana has executed 28 convicts. The last one, Gerald Bordelon, came in 2010, but he didn't count because he waived appeals. Not since 2002 has a murderer been executed against his will. That was Leslie Dale Martin, who, like Daigle, hailed from Calcasieu Parish.

At his first court appearance in 2015, Daigle said he expected to get the death sentence, which is indeed a fair bet for a cop killer. But what is the point of spending millions on a capital case when nobody expects an execution at the end of it?

It seemed that Burdine was headed for federal death row after an appeals court panel initially declined to vacate his conviction and sentence, ruling that it had not been established that Cannon's naps occurred at crucial stages of the trial. The full court finally saw reason, and Burdine got a plea deal that gave him life.

Anyone who has been to a courthouse will likely have encountered incompetent or drunk defense counsel, and Cannon was probably not the first to slumber mid-trial. You've heard of dead man walking too, but, until now, that never meant the defense attorney.