Clemency hearing for Baldwin deputy’s killer to center on defense lawyer’s competency

A man convicted of killing a Baldwin County sheriff’s deputy is scheduled to be executed next week, but first his lawyers will argue for clemency, claiming the man did not have adequate counsel during trial and sentencing.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles will hear their arguments at 9 a.m. Monday in a special called meeting. Robert Wayne Holsey, 49, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright, who prosecuted Holsey, will argue against clemency, saying Holsey’s attorney was lucid and a formidable foe.

Holsey was convicted of killing Baldwin County sheriff’s Deputy Will Robinson after the deputy pulled over Holsey in a motel parking lot in response to an armed robbery at a Jet Food Store in Milledgeville Dec. 17, 1995.

Brian Kammer is executive director of the Georgia Resource Center, a nonprofit that represents those on death row. He’s representing Holsey in his clemency hearing, arguing he may not have gotten a fair shake at a life sentence.

“What we claimed in his case, in Mr. Holsey’s case, was that his attorney Andy Prince had rendered ineffective assistance and violated Mr. Holsey’s Sixth Amendment right to competent counsel,” Kammer said.

Prince represented Holsey at trial and sentencing.

“Mr. Prince was an active alcoholic at the time of his representation of Mr. Holsey. He was consuming approximately a quart of vodka a night during the trial,” Kammer said.

Not long after Holsey’s conviction, Prince was found guilty of stealing funds from another client, sentenced to his own prison stint and disbarred.

“He was a complete mess. And he was far, far from being able to provide a minimum of competent assistance,” Kammer said.

In the sentencing phase, Prince did not present evidence of childhood abuse suffered by Holsey and his siblings. Neighbors referred to the home as the torture chamber, Kammer said.

Prince also did not share that Holsey’s IQ tested as 70 as early as age 15, indicating he had intellectual disabilities, Kammer said.

Holsey’s sentence was reduced on appeal. But the Georgia Supreme Court later overturned that ruling.

Bright’s recollection of Prince’s defense is far different.

“He was the go-to guy for death penalty defense lawyer at the time,” Bright said.

Bright said Prince was a tough opponent. Whether Prince drank at night doesn’t matter, he said.

“During the day when he was in court he was sober. He was lucid. He was a fighter. He worked his tail off,” Bright said.

Bright said Prince defended Holsey against compelling physical evidence that put the gun in his hand despite the lack of eyewitness testimony. His defense kept one juror indecisive for seven hours of deliberation.

Bright admits Holsey’s childhood wasn’t great, but it was rough for his sister, too.

“She chose to serve her country in Desert Storm. He chose to rob a convenience store,” Bright said. “I told the jury, ‘Same mother.’ ”

Holsey’s sister went on to become a Baldwin County deputy and later a deputy U.S. marshal.

As for issues of Holsey’s intelligence, Bright said even Prince’s experts couldn’t definitively say whether Holsey was intellectually disabled.

Bright defends the legal arguments made on both sides of Holsey’s case and said that despite his zeal for justice, the last thing he wants is to kill an innocent man.

“We don’t take this lightly. It’s not a notch on my belt or anything,” he said.