Georgia Set to Execute Mentally Disabled Man Whose Lawyer was Drinking Heavily Throughout His Trial


Tonight at 7 p.m. EST, Georgia is scheduled to execute Robert Wayne Holsey, a man whose I.Q. is around 70. Hosley was represented by a lawyer who admitted to drinking heavily throughout Hosley's trial. 

In 1996, Holsey robbed a convenience store, then shot and killed a pursuing police officer. He was convicted of armed robbery and murder and sentenced to death in 1997.

His attorney, Andy Prince, later testified that during Holsey's trial, he would go back to his hotel room in the evenings and drink until he "couldn't drink anymore." According to Prince, he was consuming roughly a quart of vodka every night—the equivalent of 21 shots. "What I considered doing fine at the time was just barely getting by. I shouldn't have been representing anybody in that case," Prince has said.

Prince later voluntarily forfeited his law license and was sentenced to serve three years in prison for stealing over $100,000 from one of his clients.

Eventually, a Georgia Superior Court judge would rule that Holsey's lawyer failed to present mitigating evidence that may have led to a different outcome, including facts about Holsey's intellectual disability and his violent family history. Georgia requires a unanimous jury vote to impose the death penalty; if this evidence had been presented, perhaps one or more jurors may have voted otherwise. The judge vacated Holsey's death sentence and ordered him to be resentenced.

However, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed that decision and ruled Holsey had failed to show that the outcome would have been different if his lawyer had presented this additional evidence. In 2012, a federal appeals court ruled Holsey had not proved the Georgia Supreme Court's decision was "unreasonable."

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court barred the execution of inmates with mental disabilities, but left the states to determine who qualifies as mentally sound. This year, the United States Supreme Court invalidated a Florida statute that allowed inmates with an I.Q. of 71 or higher to be executed. In their Hall v. Florida ruling, the court argued Florida's rigid cutoff excluded the state from considering other evidence that may prove an inmate's disability.

Lawyers for Holsey argue his I.Q. is around 70, and say he never rose above a fourth grade level of intellectual functioning. His prison records, they argue, further document his mental disability.

But in Georgia, state law requires Holsey to prove he's mentally disabled "beyond a reasonable doubt." That's the strictest standard in the nation and extremely difficult to meet. Holsey filed an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court that argued Georgia's standard is unconstitutional in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Hall v. Florida. This afternoon, however, the Georgia Supreme Court denied that appeal along with a motion for a stay of execution, thus clearing the way for Holsey to be executed this evening unless the United States Supreme Court intervenes.

All inmates should have the right to be represented by lawyers not completely inebriated during trial. Even those who support the death penalty should be able to concede that allowing a mentally disabled man to be executed is a barbaric act that flies in the face of justice. 

Update: The United States Supreme Court denied Holsey's application for a stay of execution as well as his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. He was executed by the state of Georgia at 10:51 p.m. Tuesday night.