The gurney used for lethal injections sits behind glass windows in a small cinder block building at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. (Ben Gray/Staff)

Killer still refuses to appeal sentence as execution date nears

Even though Georgia has scheduled Steven Spears’ execution for the 2001 murder of his ex-girlfriend, he still refuses to meet with his lawyer to appeal his death sentence.

Spears has rebuffed his lawyer’s attempts to talk, or even meet, for more than a year. If this continues, Spears will go to his death by lethal injection on Nov. 16 without bringing an appeal other than the automatic one that was filed after he was condemned for killing Sherri Holland.

And it would be the first time Georgia has executed a murderer who never voluntarily challenged his trial, conviction, or sentence.

“I sent a letter (saying), ‘Please let us fight for you. There is something worth fighting for,’” said Clayton attorney Allyn Stockton, who represented Spears at trial and remains his attorney of record.

No answer.

And when Stockton has gone to the prison near Jackson, Spears has refused to come out.

“Seeking the death penalty was justified, and there wouldn’t be an injustice done if he is executed,” said Jeffrey Langley, district attorney for the four-county Enotah Judicial Circuit, which includes Lumpkin, where the killing took place.

Spears, 54, would be the eighth person Georgia has executed in 2016 , more than any other state this year. The last time Georgia executed eight or more people in a year was 1957, when 16 men were electrocuted. Georgia most recently executed cop killer Gregory Lawler on Oct. 12.

Since the death penalty was reinstated nationwide in 1976, 144 people have voluntarily gone to their deaths, the most recent in Texas last year, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

“That is uncommon, but it is not rare,” Dunham said.

Not Just A Question Of Guilt

John Blume, a Cornell Law School professor who has researched inmates who “volunteer” to be executed, said the percentage of death row prisoners who give up their appeals mirrors free-world suicides.

“Every death-row volunteer inevitably presents us with the following question: Should a death-row inmate who wishes to waive his appeals be viewed as a client making a legal decision to accept the justness of his punishment, or as a person seeking the aid of the state in committing suicide?” Blume wrote in a paper published by Cornell Law School, “Killing the Willing.”

“It’s not that everybody shouldn’t be able to do it,” Blume said in an interview. “The court should at least inquire as to what the motivation is. It might be there is a person who has no mental illness and doesn’t appear to be suicidal. It may be (a case of) ‘I can’t live with what I did. I deserve to die for what I did.’”

The risk of avoiding appeals, Dunham said, is that “someone who is mentally ill, emotionally disturbed or intellectually disabled will be executed. … There may not be a question about guilt. “That doesn’t mean it’s not an unconstitutional execution.”

The courts have said inmates with mental, emotional or intellectual disabilities cannot be executed, but Georgia’s standard for proving those disabilities is the toughest in the nation.

Kill Me, Or I Will Kill You

Sometimes, of course, a death penalty “volunteer” will change his mind. Larry Lonchar, sentenced to die for a DeKalb County triple murder, initially refused to appeal his sentence. But twice within hours of his scheduled execution, he agreed to let his lawyers appeal, once because he wanted legislators to pass a law allowing him to donate his organs. Lonchar was electrocuted in 1996.

Stockton said Spears has wavered many times about whether he wanted to be put to death. Spears has said he did not want to live in prison and that death would be a relief.

Also, when he was on trial in Lumpkin County in 2007, Spears would not let his defense team present any evidence that might have persuaded the jury to give him life in prison, Stockton said.

Stockton said Spears told his lawyers there would be consequences if they fought for a life sentence. “‘I will take the stand (and testify), and if I get out (of prison) I will come and kill you,’” Stockton said Spears told him.

4 Ways To Murder 1 Woman

Spears readily confessed to murdering Holland, telling investigators, “If I had to do it again, I’d do it.”

The couple dated for about three years, despite Spears having told Holland that he’d choke her to death if he ever caught her with somebody else, Spears told investigators.

After their breakup, Spears suspected Holland had found someone new. So he plotted her murder, coming up with plans to electrocute her, beat her to death, shoot her or suffocate her.

He told investigators he put everything in place for each plan so things would be ready when it was time to kill her.

Spears connected wires to the bathroom plumbing in the crawlspace under Holland’s house so she could be electrocuted when she showered during a thunderstorm. “Pretty creative, ain’t it,” Spears told investigators, according to court records.

He fashioned a bat out of a tree limb and hid it under a canoe in her yard so he could grab it easily if he decided to beat Holland to death.

Spears also crawled through an air conditioning vent into her house. He loaded Holland’s shotgun, put it back in place and left. “If she brought somebody else in there I was just gonna shoot him,” Spears said.

‘Last Thing She Said Was …’

Spears followed his fourth plan.

On Aug. 24, 2001, around 10 p.m., Spears hid in the closet of the bedroom where Holland’s son usually slept. The 13-year-old boy was visiting his father for the weekend.

Four hours later, Spears went into Holland’s bedroom and started binding her hands and feet with duct tape. They struggled and at one point he punched her in the head and began to choke her.

“Last thing she said was she loved me,” Spears told investigators. “Swear to God, that’s the last thing she said.”

He carried the unconscious woman back to her bed, wrapped her face and mouth with duct tape, placed a plastic bag over her head and secured the bag with duct tape. She smothered.

Before leaving Holland’s house, Spears set the thermostat for the heater to 90 degrees and secured her bedroom door with a padlock.

After changing clothes at his house, Spears drove to a nearby store, bought fishing gear and a fishing license, then went fishing, according to testimony.

Holland’s ex-husband and her son found her body on Aug. 26, 2001, a day after she was killed.

Spears was almost immediately suspected. He had dropped a flashlight at Holland’s house. In his car, investigators found a receipt for a green light bulb he’d placed under Holland’s house so he could see while he tampered with her plumbing and wiring. And Holland’s purse was discovered in Spears’ trailer.

Ten days later, after hiding in the woods, Spears was spotted walking along a Lumpkin County road. He told a deputy he was headed to town to turn himself in.

Spears told investigators he killed Holland because he loved her. “I told her I wasn’t letting her go, and I didn’t.”

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