Other Judge Dissents Partly Because Defense Lawyer “Drank a Quart of Vodka Every Night”

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It seemed worth a second post on Holsey v. Warden (first one here) to mention the dissent's view that the Georgia Supreme Court was wrong to hold that the defendant was not prejudiced by ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. She noted that it was undisputed that Holsey is "borderline mentally retarded" (the State's experts agreed he was not faking) and that he had been abused so severely as a child that neighbors called his home "the Torture Chamber." And she pointed out that rather than investigating and presenting this evidence at sentencing, "Holsey's lead defense lawyer drank a quart of vodka every night of Holsey's trial while also preparing to be sued, criminally prosecuted and disbarred for stealing client funds." In light of these facts, she believed, the state court's finding that Holsey had not been prejudiced was unreasonable and he should have received a new sentencing hearing.

I didn't mention it before so as not to overshadow Judge Edmondson's very good point that (at least with legal work) longer is not necessarily better, but Holsey had been sentenced to death.

To me, that puts a somewhat different light on the fact that Judge Edmondson concurred because he believed that the state court's finding that Holsey was not prejudiced by his lawyer's poor defense was "within the outside border of the range of reasonable." As I said before, not the most resounding endorsement of a decision that will likely lead to an execution.

Holsey would not and should not have gone free—he had a lengthy criminal record and was sentenced to death for killing a deputy sheriff during a robbery. But as the dissent pointed out, all he needed to show on habeas review was "a substantial probability that one juror would not have voted in favor of the death penalty had this evidence been introduced by competent counsel." Even then, this would only have meant, apparently, that Holsey would've been entitled to a new sentencing hearing. That jury might still have sentenced him to death, but at least the evidence would (hopefully) have been presented by a lawyer who stayed relatively sober while preparing for trial, and wasn't also preparing for his own at the same time.

If it matters, the dissenting opinion was 44 pages long.