The State of Georgia is set to execute a man on December 9, but before that can happen, nagging issues of whether or not he received adequate council have to be put to bed.
Robert Wayne Holsey was convicted of killing Baldwin County Sheriff’s Deputy Will Robinson after Robinson pulled Holsey over on the road while responding to an armed robbery call. His conviction was far from open and shut, but in the year’s since no one has asserted his innocence.
That includes Brian Kammer, executive director of the Georgia Resource Center, a non-profit that represents those on death row. Kammer has argued for clemency a number of times, including the high-profile case of Troy Davis, whose execution drew international attention. He’s representing Holsey in his clemency hearing. He said even given Holsey’s apparent guilt, he might not have gotten a fair shake at a life sentence.
“What we claimed in his case, in Mr. Holsey’s case, was that his attorney Andy Prince had rendered ineffective assistance and violated Mr. Holsey’s 6th amendment right to competent council,” Kammer said.
Andy Prince represented Holsey at trial and sentencing. The problems with his representation are well documented.
“Mr. Prince was an active alcoholic at the time of his representation of Mr. Holsey. He was consuming approximately a quart of vodka a night during the trial,” Kammer said.
Not long after Holsey’s conviction, Prince was convicted of stealing funds from another client, sentenced to his own prison stint and disbarred.
“He was a complete mess. And he was far, far from being able to provide a minimum of competent assistance,” Kammer said.
According to Kammer, Prince’s inadequacy was nowhere more important than in the post conviction, sentencing phase of Holsey’s trial. It was there that Prince elected not to present to jurors evidence of terrific childhood abuse suffered by Holsey and his siblings. Neighbors referred to the home as the torture chamber.
Prince also never told jurors how Holsey’s IQ was tested at 70 as early as age 15. That’s widely considered the limit for mental competency for execution across the country.
A later judge did hear all of that evidence as well as details of Andy Prince’s alcoholism and disbarment. That judge reduced Holsey’s sentence. But the Georgia Supreme Court later overturned that ruling.
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright convicted Wayne Holsey and will argue against clemency for him. His recollection of Prince’s defense is far different.
“He was the go to guy for the death penalty defense lawyer at the time,” Bright said.
Bright said from his side of the table, Prince was a tough opponent regardless of whether or not he was an alcoholic at the time.
“It wouldn’t shock me that he drank at night. I’m not there so I wouldn’t know, but that wouldn’t shock me,” Bright said.
But Bright says what Prince did at night doesn’t matter. He says in court, Prince was formidable.
“During the day when he was in court he was sober, he was lucid, he was a fighter, he worked his tail off,” Bright said.
Bright said Prince defended Holsey against a raft of compelling physical evidence that put the gun that killed Deputy Will Robinson in his hand despite the lack of eyewitness testimony. His defense kept one juror indecisive for seven hours of deliberation.
As for Holsey’s childhood, Bright will admit it wasn’t great, but it was rough for his sister Regina, too.
“She chose to serve her country in Desert Storm. He chose to rob a convenience store,” Bright said, “I told the jury, ‘Same Mother.’”
Holsey’s sister went on to be a Baldwin County Deputy and later a Deputy U.S. Marshall.
As for issues of Holsey’s intelligence, Bright said Prince left that out of court because even his experts could only give him a lukewarm maybe as to whether Holsey was, in the legal terminology of the day, mentally retarded.
Bright defends the legal arguments made on both sides of Holsey’s case and said that despite his zeal for justice, the last thing he wants is to kill an innocent man.
“We don’t take this lightly. It’s not a notch on my belt or anything,” he said.
No one is arguing Wayne Holsey’s innocence.