Mentally Disabled Inmate Defended by Alcoholic Lawyer Executed in Georgia

By Paul Gaita 12/10/14

Robert Wayne Holsey's attorney failed to adequately defend his client and was later convicted of misappropriating funds.

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Georgia death row inmate Robert Wayne Holsey was executed by lethal injection on Tuesday night, despite considerable controversy regarding his mental capacity and the quality of his legal defense.

Holsey was sentenced to die by the State of Georgia for the 1995 murder of a sheriff’s deputy, but his lawyer, Brian Kammer, attempted to gain a reprieve for his client on the grounds that Holsey had an IQ of 70. Holsey’s trial attorney, Andrew Prince, was later convicted and sentenced to prison for misappropriating his clients’ funds. At his trial, Prince admitted that he did not adequately represent Holsey because of his struggles with alcohol, which had Prince consuming up to a quart of vodka each night after court proceedings.

These issues prompted Kammer and his legal team to request a stay of execution for Holsey based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May 2014 that labeled Florida’s standards for proving intellectual disability too strict. However, the lower courts rejected Kammer’s request and a last minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected on Tuesday afternoon, one hour before Holsey was scheduled to die. After consuming a meal and refusing sedatives offered before the sentence was carried out, the Georgia Department of Corrections executed Holsey at 10:51 p.m.

Less than three hours later, the State of Missouri carried out the execution of Paul Goodwin, who was convicted for the 1998 sexual assault and murder of a 63-year-old neighbor. Like Holsey, Goodwin’s attorneys argued that their client also had an intellectual disability—his IQ was believed to be approximately 73 or lower—and a death sentence would violate a Supreme Court ruling against executing the mentally disabled.

Goodwin was also one of several Missouri death row inmates who sued the state over its use of a drug for lethal injection that contained unidentified ingredients and which constituted a risk for severe pain. Governor Jay Nixon declined a clemency request, and Goodwin became the 10th person to die in a Missouri prison this year, which rivals Texas for most executions per state carried out in the United States in 2014.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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