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A long wait for a fair trial

In case you missed it, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a Texas man convicted of murder and sentenced to death didn't receive effective legal assistance because his attorney dosed off frequently during the trial.

While that may seem like a no-brainer to most of us, it took numerous appeals and nearly 20 years to reach the decision that stems from the original 1984 murder trial of Calvin Jerold Burdine.

As reported by The Associated Press, Burdine was convicted of stabbing to death his gay lover, W.T. "Dub" Wise, in 1983 in Houston. Burdine confessed to police but later recanted.

During the trial, his attorney, Joe Cannon, fell asleep for up to 10 minutes at a time during both the testimony and the sentencing phase, according to the jury foreman and a court clerk.

Amazingly, Burdine lost several appeals and survived six execution dates, according to The Associated Press. He eventually won in federal court, but then the state of Texas appealed to the high court.

It would seem logical that a sleeping attorney would provide little help to a man facing a death sentence. The Constitution guarantees the right to a lawyer. Subsequent rulings by the high court have interpreted that to mean effective legal advice.

Determining what is and isn't effective legal aid apparently isn't easy. It took numerous trials and hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to decide a sleeping attorney did his client little good.

Some will say the end result proves the justice system works. Others will argue the high court has simply delayed the death of a killer who deserves to die.

With life and death in the balance, our justice system must ensure a fair trial. With that in mind, the high court's decision was a long time coming.

John G. Miller

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