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Finding reason enough for death

Where intelligence, morality meet: Should Alabama execute retarded criminals?

By TAYLOR BRIGHT
BIRMINGHAM POST-HERALD

Glenn Holladay had a .32 automatic pistol in his hand, a sheriff's deputy's gun pointed at him, and was a day away from being put on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.
 
 
Special to the Post-Herald
Holladay is escorted to an Etowah County courtroom for the first day of his 1987 capital murder trial.
"I want my mommy," screamed the 6-foot-3-inch Holladay, who could bench press 400 pounds. "I want my mommy."

"OK, we'll talk to mommy," said the Alachua County, Fla. deputy, Chuck Sexton.

Sexton smacked Holladay's gun away and hit him with the radio. Holladay grabbed Sexton's revolver with one hand and clutched Sexton's crotch with the other, and bit his arm.

"If you let go of the gun, I won't kill you," Holladay said.

Sexton reached down to his backup gun on his ankle, pulled it up, and shot Holladay twice.

Holladay would live to stand trial for the 1986 murder of his ex-wife, Rebecca Ledbetter Holladay, her boyfriend, William David Robinson and a family friend, Larry Thomas, Jr., all in Gadsden.

"He tried to set me up pretending he was a crazy guy," said Sexton, now an investigator with the Alachua County sheriff's department in Gainesville, Fla. "He knew I wouldn't think he was the person he was."

Today, Holladay is fighting for his life on grounds he is mentally retarded. Eighteen of the 38 states that allow the death penalty do not allow execution of the mentally retarded. Some Alabama lawmakers also want to ban the practice.

The definition of mental retardation varies from state to state, but an IQ below 70 is the most common benchmark.

Holladay was scheduled to be executed in July for the three murders he was convicted of in July of 1987. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution while they hear the case of Daryl Atkins, a mentally retarded Virginia man convicted of murder and robbery.

The cases of Atkins and Holladay were two of four before the court that involved the execution of a mentally retarded prisoner.

"He's been tested nine times," said Montgomery lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who is representing Holladay. "Every time he has been tested as mentally retarded."

Holladay's life could be spared if the Supreme Court rules it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded or if the Alabama legislature passes a law prohibiting it.

State Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, in 2000 proposed a ban on the execution of mentally retarded inmates, but won little support, partly because it was linked to a bill seeking a moratorium on all executions.

Sanders said he would likely introduce another bill to stop executions of the mentally retarded in the next session, most separate from a moratorium.

If a law were passed stopping the executions soon, Sanders said, it could spare Holladay's life. The highest hurdle to passing the bill, though, is overcoming opposition by law enforcement and the Alabama attorney general's office.

Those who prosecuted Holladay said even if he has tested as mentally retarded, he is a dangerous killer who should be executed.

James Hedgespeth, who prosecuted Holladay for the three deaths in Gadsden as the Etowah County district attorney, said Holladay is not mentally retarded, despite being illiterate. (While fleeing from the murders, Holladay kidnapped a man and took him to Georgia because he couldn't read the road signs once he got away from the interstate or roads he knew.)

"Glenn Holladay is just mean. He's a burglar, murderer and rapist who was just too darn lazy to learn how to read and write when he was in school," Hedgespeth said.

Stevenson said Holladay may have eluded police, but it isn't a sign of criminal genius.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to avoid the police if the effort is not targeted in the right way," Stevenson said.

Birmingham attorney David Arendall represented Holladay in the 1986 kidnapping case. He said Holladay was competent to stand trial but didn't help much in his own defense.

"He wasn't the best witness I ever had," Arendall said. "He definitely had limitations."

"He was certainly uneducated. He was certainly not very bright. Whether it was to the point of mental retardation, I don't know," Arendall said.

Four other Alabamians who were either mentally retarded or borderline have been put to death, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, based in Washington, D.C.
 
 

 
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