CRIME
04/25/2014 11:49 am ET Updated Apr 25, 2014

Could This Man Die Because His Lawyer Was An Alcoholic?

Courtesy Mother Jones

A Georgia inmate could be put to death because his alcoholic lawyer with legal troubles of his own failed him, according to an essay in Mother Jones.

Robert Wayne Holsey was arrested for the murder of Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff Will Robinson on Dec. 17, 1995. Robinson was killed when he pulled Holsey over following the armed robbery of a Jet Food Store.

Whether Holsey killed Robinson is not in dispute. But Marc Bookman, director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Philadelphia, writes that there's no way Holsey got a fair trial and he may be legally ineligible to be executed.

"You can't look at the case and say this is how our death penalty system should work," Bookman told The Huffington Post. "Everything went wrong."

Holsey's court appointed public defender was Andy Prince. Bookman starts his essay in Mother Jones with this to say about Prince:

When people recount their alcohol consumption after a night on the town, or even a serious bender, they usually think about it in terms of drinks. Very rarely do they calibrate their intake in quarts. So most of us don't have a good sense of just how much a quart of vodka is -- a bit more than 21 shots, as it turns out. That's the amount of alcohol lawyer Andy Prince consumed every night during the death penalty trial of his client, Robert Wayne Holsey, a low-functioning man with a tortured past who now stands on the brink of execution in Georgia.

Prince also had various legal troubles. He was sent to prison for 16 months for theft in 1998 and he was disbarred just eight months after Holsey's trial following an altercation with neighbors in which he threatened them with a gun and screamed at them in a curse and racial epithet-laced tirade.

Bookman contends Prince failed to mention Holsey's hellish upbringing and only briefly mentioned his client's mental disability during the trial.

Bookman said all of the doctors interviewed by the defense said Holsey was intellectually disabled and one of the prosecutor's doctors believed the same.

"A competent lawyer would spend a lot of time talking about his intellectual functioning," Bookman said. "It was basically read to the jury as a sentence in a report. It was mentioned in passing."

The Supreme Court has ruled that people who are intellectually disabled cannot be executed.

Prince also failed to call any witnesses from Holsey's neighborhood who, Bookman writes, would have "gladly shared" details of his client's horrific upbringing. Strong language below:

Holsey's mother, Mary, it turned out, was legendary around the neighborhood for the fearsome physical abuse she inflicted on her children. If Wayne opened the refrigerator looking for food because he was hungry, he was beaten. If he crossed the street to pick blackberries, he was beaten. If he wet the bed, which he did until he was a teenager, he was beaten. He was beaten with hands, curling irons, extension cords, high-heel shoes, cooking spoons. In the house, on the corner. The physical abuse was accompanied by verbal brutality: "butthole." "Sissy ass." "Motherfucker." "Dumbo." "Buck teeth motherfucking monkey."

In testimony that was never heard by the jury, Holsey's neighbor, Sandra Francis, said Mary's home was known as the "torture chamber."

"The argument would be that a jury that hears full evidence of the way he was raised and the abuse and trauma he suffered might well decide that life without parole is a more appropriate sentence," Bookman said.

But Holsey lost his appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court, U.S. District Court and the 11th Circuit.

Bookman said it seemed as though judges were "willing to bend over backwards to give the state every benefit of the doubt."

Bookman writes that 11th Circuit Judge J.L. Edmondson said in his opinion that Georgia's Supreme Court acted "within the outside border of the range of reasonable" when it rejected Holsey's appeal.

Bookman said the death penalty system is "trying to operate on the cheap and still uphold its verdicts."

Holsey's execution date has not been scheduled, but barring an intervention from the Supreme Court, he will be put to death and that's a sign our judicial system is in need of serious repair, Bookman said.

"We need to set up a system where you insure quality representation at the trial level," Bookman said. "What happens there is the most important thing but we spend the least amount of money to make sure the resources are there to have a fair trial."

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