Supreme Court Justices Allow Georgia Execution Despite Mental Disability Claim

Robert Wayne Holsey faced execution in Georgia Tuesday night. (Photo: AP)
Robert Wayne Holsey faced execution in Georgia Tuesday night.
(Photo: AP)

The Supreme Court refused to block the execution of a Georgia prisoner Tuesday night after his attorneys argued that the state’s strict standards for determining intellectual disability violated his constitutional rights.

The high court’s action denied Robert Wayne Holsey a reprieve so that the justices could determine whether to send his case back to Georgia for additional fact-finding. The state Supreme Court had cleared the way for his execution earlier in the day.

The refusal to block the execution was unsigned. Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have granted it.

Holsey was convicted in 1997 for killing a deputy sheriff following a convenience store robbery. His lawyer, who admitted drinking vodka heavily during the trial, was later disbarred and given a 10-year sentence for stealing client funds.

The issue in the case was whether Holsey was given sufficient opportunity to demonstrate an intellectual disability — a subject the justices addressed in a Florida case in May and will take up again in a Louisiana case next spring.

In the Florida case, the court ruled 5-4 that Freddie Lee Hall could not be executed because the state adhered to an overly rigid IQ test score of 70 to determine intellectual disability. Holsey’s lawyers argued that the justices’ new rule — applying a margin of error to the IQ tests — should have spared their client’s life.

The Louisiana case that the justices have agreed to hear next year focuses on Kevan Brumfield’s inability to get a separate hearing on his mental disability claim, which was considered only at sentencing.

Holsey’s petition contended that Georgia’s “beyond reasonable doubt” standard for determining intellectual disability “creates an unacceptable risk of wrongful execution of the intellectually disabled.”

“Clearly, a less onerous standard of proof would have meant the difference between life and death for Mr. Holsey,” his lawyers said.

The state responded that Holsey was not disabled at the time of his trial. Its brief said he had an IQ of 79, “understood complicated legal concepts, and had a sophisticated vocabulary.”

SOURCE: USA Today – Richard Wolf

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