The federal appeals court has upheld a death sentence against man who killed a sheriff’s deputy, even though the condemned inmate’s lead lawyer drank a quart of vodka every day during trial.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, in a 2-1 decision issued Thursday, said that even though Robert Wayne Holsey’s trial lawyers did not do a competent job, their deficient performance did not prejudice the outcome of the trial. Holsey sits on Georgia’s death row for fatally shooting Baldwin County Deputy Will Robinson after an armed robbery of a convenience store in December 1995.
Holsey’s appellate lawyers noted that his lead trial lawyer, Andrew Prince, drank a quart of vodka every night of Holsey’s trial because he was about to be sued and prosecuted for stealing client funds. During Holsey’s appeal, Prince testified that he “probably shouldn’t have been allowed to represent anybody” because of his condition.
In its ruling, the 11th Circuit said the key question was not whether Holsey’s lawyers were ineffective. It was whether their deficient performance prejudiced the outcome to the point there was a reasonable probability Holsey would not have been sentenced to death.
Judge Ed Carnes, writing the majority opinion, said the abundant aggravating factors — such as the fact Holsey killed a deputy to avoid arrest and had a prior armed robbery conviction — outweighed any additional mitigation evidence Holsey’s lawyers could have presented to the jury had they been doing their job.
Judge J.L. Edmondson concurred with the decision, but he indicated it was a close call as to whether the poor performance of Holsey’s lawyers prejudiced the outcome of the trial.
In dissent, Judge Rosemary Barkett said the jury never learned that Holsey was subjected to abuse so severe, frequent and notorious that his neighbors called his childhood home “the torture chamber.” Holsey’s mother beat him with an extension cord, shoes and a broom and would hold his head under the bathtub faucet, Barkett wrote, also citing testimony that the house was infested with roaches and reeked of urine and rotting food.
Had the jury heard more about Holsey’s “horrific child abuse,” Barkett wrote, there is a substantial probability he would not have been sentenced to death.
Carnes disagreed. He noted that the jury heard details of Holsey’s abuse during the 1997 trial and said the more exhaustive details of it that emerged on appeal were not enough to strike down the death sentence.
Holsey’s lawyer, Brian Kammer, said the jury was not presented enough evidence because Holsey’s lead trial attorney “opted to anesthetize himself with vodka rather than prepare adequately to defend against the death penalty. The 11th Circuit majority appears similarly to have anesthetized its sense of justice.”
Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Sam Olens, said her office had no comment on the court’s ruling.