Former probation officer sentenced to 20 years in Houston County shooting death of girlfriend

bpurser@macon.comApril 29, 2013 

holt_plea

Hope Robinson, right, comforts her daughter, Mallory, during a sentencing hearing for Russell Holt. Robinson is shooting victim Jessica Wolfe’s aunt. Holt pleaded guilty Monday to voluntary manslaughter in Wolfe’s slaying before being tried on murder charges. Judge Tripp Self sentenced Holt to 20 years in prison.

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PERRY -- A former state probation officer was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the slaying of his girlfriend.

Russell Holt, 29, fatally shot Jessica Wolfe, 27, in his home on Ledford Way near Moody Road on March 18, 2012. Wolfe was a legal assistant for the Houston County District Attorney’s Office. Holt also pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm during a crime.

Holt lost his job as a probation officer after he was charged in the killing. His plea to the lesser manslaughter charge resulted in the dismissal of other charges against him.

His trial was scheduled to begin Monday in Houston County Superior Court before Macon Judicial Circuit Judge Tripp Self. Houston County judges and prosecutors disqualified themselves from the case. The plea pre-empted the trial.

Self sentenced Holt to the maximum of 20 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter and five years on probation for the possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

The courtroom was crowded with Wolfe’s family and friends, many of them crying and sobbing throughout the proceeding. Holt’s family, also visibly distraught, sat directly behind him.

Security was heightened with more than a half-dozen deputies on hand. Both Wolfe and Holt worked in the courthouse. Prosecutors placed a large photo of a smiling Wolfe in a chair.

The nearly 45-minute hearing included emotional statements from Wolfe’s family members and her boss, Houston County District Attorney George Hartwig. All of them told the judge that justice had not been served with the plea agreement and that the case should have gone to trial.

“Our whole family has been traumatized,” said her father, Ron Wolfe. “We struggle every day with pain and grief. Our world is shattered.”

Sister Ashley Wolfe said no punishment is sufficient.

“Even if he receives the maximum amount of years, he will still be young enough when he gets out to live life,” she said. “His family will still be able to visit him. He can still marry and have children when he gets out, and Jessica will never have that chance.”

Hartwig said Holt should have stood trial for murder.

“Why should the state give up a murder charge and give the defendant a free pass?”

Holt did not make a statement in court. His Macon attorney, Franklin J. Hogue, read a short statement on behalf of Holt’s family. The statement expressed sadness at Jessica Wolfe’s tragic death and noted that the Holt family loved her.

Self, also emotional during the hearing, tried to offer words of comfort for both families.

“Mr. Holt, this didn’t have to be. ... You made a stupid, selfish decision. ... You have ruined your reputation. You’ve shattered this family’s lives. You’ve shattered the district attorney’s office. ... I know (your parents) didn’t sign up for this,” Self said.

Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Peter J. Skandalakis, who prosecuted the case, said afterward that he understood the family’s reaction. But Skandalakis said he also weighed the evidence, the circumstances and Wolfe’s and Holt’s relationship, and noted that alcohol was involved. He said his decision came after much prayer and consideration.

“Jessica and Russell had been dating for some time, and the witnesses we talked to all told us about how fond she was of Russell,” Skandalakis said. “I truly believe that but for the drinking that night, ... that we wouldn’t be here today, and that played a large part in what happened that night.”

The plea agreement included a stipulation of facts from both the prosecution and defense on each side’s version of what happened in the early morning hours that Wolfe was killed.

Both sides agreed that Wolfe and Holt had been partying at The Cavern and took a cab to Holt’s home. The two argued over Wolfe’s belief that Holt had contacted a woman he’d met earlier at The Cavern. The argument escalated, with Wolfe’s head hitting a wall and Holt firing shots toward her from a bathroom.

When they argued in the kitchen, the prosecution contended, “Holt, in an emotional drunken state, fires one round into Jessica, killing her almost instantly.”

A neighbor later found Holt on the front lawn. The neighbor found Wolfe’s body in the kitchen. Holt told police an intruder knocked him unconscious.

The defense claimed Holt came into the kitchen to apologize and had remorsefully put the gun to his head in his intoxicated state. Wolfe tried to intervene and the two tussled.

“In an instant, with no rational thought to it, Russell pulled the trigger and a bullet struck Jessica,” the defense continued. When he realized that Wolfe was dead and that he had shot her, Holt made a “series of bad choices” afterward.

Skandalakis acknowledged in the plea agreement that Holt’s version of events was plausible. Holt had no prior felonies or misdemeanor convictions.

Hogue said later by telephone that he believed the plea agreement was fair. He said the hearing highlighted why it’s important to have prosecutors who have an emotional investment in a case to step aside as Hartwig did.

“It showed that Pete Skandalakis was able to have the distance necessary to make a sound decision about the right results, and I agree with him and pushed it,” Hogue said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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