Ineffective Counsel in Georgia
September 19, 2012
The New York Times
Robert Wayne Holsey, on death row in Georgia for killing a police officer, is seeking a new sentencing hearing because he received ineffective counsel. He should get one. His own lawyer told a Georgia trial court reviewing the case that he “probably shouldn’t have been allowed to represent anybody” while he was ostensibly providing a defense.
The lawyer said that he drank a quart of vodka every night during the trial and that he was also preparing to defend himself against possible disbarment for stealing client funds. Not surprisingly, the trial court ordered a new sentencing hearing, saying that “no one can seriously believe that the petitioner received the constitutional guarantees of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.”
Astonishingly, two other courts have since disagreed in rulings that seem equally contemptuous of defendants’ rights to effective counsel. The State Supreme Court said that Mr. Holsey failed to show that the trial would have come out differently if his lawyer had done his job properly. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled 2 to 1 that Mr. Holsey failed to prove the State Supreme Court’s decision was “unreasonable.”
The dissent from that decision explains why both rulings are wrong. At Mr. Holsey’s trial, the defense made only cursory mention of the beatings he suffered as a child and the fact that he had been judged mentally retarded — mitigating circumstances that could have changed the outcome. Georgia requires a unanimous vote to impose the death penalty; given the evidence, one or more jurors might have voted otherwise.
At the review hearing in the Georgia trial court, a new defense team presented evidence that neighbors called Mr. Holsey’s home the “Torture Chamber” and that his mother beat him as a boy so badly with belts, extension cords and broom handles that he sometimes slept outside to avoid her. His mental retardation (his I.Q. has been measured around 70) was “a catastrophic disability” and his “social adaptation” as an adult was judged to be equivalent to that of an 8-year-old.
To the state and federal judges who ruled against Mr. Holsey, this powerful additional evidence was simply redundant: It would not have changed the case’s outcome even if his lawyer had been competent enough to present it at the initial trial. The dissent rightly disagreed; Mr. Holsey must be allowed a new hearing so a jury with all of the evidence can decide as the law and justice require.