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This Man Is About to Die Because an Alcoholic Lawyer Botched His Case

What does it take for a condemned person to win a resentencing?
 
 
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Robert Wayne Holsey during a death row visit with nieces and a nephew.

 

The following story first appeared on  Mother Jones. For more great Mother Jones content,  click here to subscribe. 

When people recount their alcohol consumption after a night on the town, or even a serious bender, they usually think about it in terms of drinks. Very rarely do they calibrate their intake in quarts. So most of us don't have a good sense of just how much a quart of vodka is—a bit more than 21 shots, as it turns out. That's the amount of alcohol lawyer Andy Prince consumed every night during the death penalty trial of his client, Robert Wayne Holsey, a low-functioning man with a tortured past who now stands on the brink of execution in Georgia.

When a person drinks that heavily, there's bound to be collateral damage—and for Prince and his clients the damage was profound. Once a skilled lawyer, Prince already had dug himself a very deep hole by the time Holsey went to trial in February 1997. But the signs of his downward spiral were clear 14 months earlier, back in December 1995, when a Baldwin County judge first assigned him the case. Prince had recently defaulted on a $20,000 promissory note, and Bell South and Vanguard Financial had won separate judgments against him totaling an additional $25,000. And then there was the probate fiasco: In June 1994, a client named Margaret Collins had hired Prince to handle the estate of her deceased common-law husband, which was valued at $116,000. Within a year there was almost nothing left—Prince had spent it all. He never really considered it stealing, he later insisted. He'd always intended to pay the money back when that one big civil case came along.

His deterioration emerged in other troubling ways. In June 1996, after six months as Holsey's lawyer, Prince got into an argument with neighbors at his apartment complex, cursing at them—"Nigger, get the fuck out of my yard or I'll shoot your black ass"—and threatening them with a gun. He was a white lawyer defending a black man in the high-profile murder of a white police officer, but nowhere in the Holsey case record was there ever a suggestion that he might be unfit to handle the case. He was simply charged with two counts of pointing a pistol at another, two counts of simple assault, two counts of disorderly conduct, and, of course, public drunkenness.

For Prince, it all came back to alcohol. Three months before he wrote the first of many checks against the estate, conduct that eventually put him in prison, he was hit with a complaint from the Athens Regional Medical Center for his failure to pay more than $10,000 for an inpatient substance abuse program he'd attended in 1993. But the drinking began long before that. By 14 he already had a problem with it, and by his late 30s, he'd lost his battle with alcoholism countless times.

On one occasion, in 1988, Prince staggered into the Athens emergency room with a blood alcohol level almost four times the driving limit, declared that he'd been drunk two months running, and asked to be detoxified. He'd come in before, and, as was his pattern, he signed himself out against the advice of the attending doctors. In May 1993, he upped the ante, arriving at the ER with a near-death .346 blood alcohol level. As Thomas Butcher, a doctor at the facility, noted in his psychological evaluation:

When a very intelligent man whose professional life is spent out maneuvering and out smarting other people repetitively makes a serious judgment error based on a belief that has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, he needs to consider that it may be time for him to do some serious revision of his thinking, that is, if he wants to continue to live.

 
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