Dakota Theriot trial remains at a standstill

John Dupont

Nearly six months after a two-parish shooting spree that left five dead, uncertainty looms over a trial date for accused murderer Dakota Theriot.

Papers filed by defense attorneys in 23rd Judicial District Court state that the Public Defender's Office does not have the funds to represent Theriot in a trial – one which will likely involve years of appeals. He has been represented by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, a nonprofit service based in New Orleans which defends those accused of capital crimes.

Theriot pleaded not guilty in March to killing three roommates -- Summer Ernest, 20, Tanner Ernest, 17, and their father Billy Ernest, 43 -- in their home near Walker on the morning of Jan. 26.

Theriot allegedly stole his roommate's truck and drove to Gonzales, where he allegedly shot and killed his parents, Keith and Elizabeth Theriot. He then fled to rural Virginia, where Richmond County police arrested him in the driveway of his grandmother's house.

21st Judicial District Attorney Scott M. Perrilloux – whose district includes Livingston Parish – said earlier this year he would seek the death penalty for Theriot, although he suspects that the defense will seek the insanity plea.

Bipartisan efforts to eliminate the death penalty – filed by state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, and state Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia – failed during the 2019 legislative session.

Chances of the death penalty are murky based on the recent history of the issue. Louisiana has executed only three inmates in the last 20 years. Seventy inmates remain on death row.

The inability to acquire drugs for the lethal injections has also been a stumbling block in recent years. Pharmaceutical companies that supply the drug have declined to sell them for executions.