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Condemned killer asked for forgiveness in final minutes of life

Georgia Department of Corrections officers check vehicles going into the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson prior to Tuesday's scheduled execution of Robert Wayne Holsey.
Georgia Department of Corrections officers check vehicles going into the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson prior to Tuesday's scheduled execution of Robert Wayne Holsey. lfabian@macon.com

JACKSON -- The killer of a Baldwin County deputy asked for forgiveness in his final minutes.

At about 10:51 p.m., Robert Wayne Holsey was executed by lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison.

Continually mouthing “I love you” to a woman believed to be his sister, Holsey slowly sank into unconsciousness with a nurse at his right arm and both hands strapped down.

As the execution was carried out, Deputy Will Robinson’s father and two younger brothers sat on the front row where Holsey could see them through the window.

They had their arms on each others’ shoulders as Holsey spoke directly to them when he was given the opportunity to speak.

“I’m sorry for taking their son’s life. He didn’t deserve to die that night and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me,” Holsey said.

Attorneys for the 49-year-old condemned killer scrambled with last minute measures to spare his life, but the execution began shortly after 10:30 p.m.

Holsey’s attorney had petitioned the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, and both denied a stay of execution.

Holsey was convicted in 1997 of fatally shooting the 26-year-old deputy who was responding to a convenience store holdup outside of Milledgeville in December 1995.

After hearing the lookout for the car, Robinson stopped Holsey who had held up the store minutes before.

A gun battle ensued and Robinson was fatally wounded in the head.

Holsey had 15 visitors Tuesday: seven family members, four friends, three members of the clergy and an attorney. He requested a last meal of eight pieces of fried chicken.

His friend, Michael Hightower, was the first protestor allowed inside the prison gate at 5 p.m.

Hightower was here in 2007 when his father, John High­tower, was executed for the Baldwin County killing of his wife and two stepdaughters in 1987.

“I’m against the death penalty. Why kill to show killing is wrong?” Hightower asked. “There’s a victim on both sides of the family. It’s not going to bring anybody back. Who has the right to do the killing? God didn’t give nobody that right to administer the execution.”

The anti-death penalty camp grew to about a dozen people through the evening, but no one came to demonstrate in support of the death penalty, according to guards dressed in black tactical squad gear.

Holsey’s attorney earlier argued that Holsey’s trial lawyer mishandled the case, omitting key information including evidence of childhood abuse and alleged intellectual disabilities.

Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee and Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who was the chief deputy for Baldwin County when Robinson was killed, were in Jackson to witness the execution, along with Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright.

All three were sitting on the front row with the Robinsons and other Baldwin deputies also watched as the death sentence was carried out.

Massee, who went to school with Robinson’s mother and has been close to the Robinson family for generations, remembers when Will, the first of three sons, was born.

“I watched him grow up and proudly hired him as a deputy sheriff,” Massee said. “When he got killed, we literally did not know how many people he touched in his 26 years of living.”

Both Massee and Sills emotionally testified against clemency Monday.

“It was kinda draining,” said Sills, who was witnessing his first execution. “His death was personal not just for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office but for all the Middle Georgia law enforcement officers.”

In the nearly 19 years since Robinson’s death, there hasn’t been a week that’s gone by that Massee hasn’t been asked about the case and the status of Holsey on death row.

“(The execution) is a finality for the family as well as literally hundreds of supporters that have followed this case and supported his family,” Massee said.

Just before the drugs were administered, Holsey spoke to his sister: “I love you. Take care of Momma. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I love you, Regina.”

He requested a final prayer and a minister asked God to give Holsey peace and comfort.

With the drugs already starting to work, Holsey continued to look straight at his sister, mouthing the words “I love you” until he drifted off.

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