Brian Holliman sits in the Oktibbeha County Courtroom Monday. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff
August 13, 2013 10:20:59 AM
STARKVILLE -- Testimony began Monday in the murder trial of Brian Holliman, whose 2009 conviction for the murder of his wife was overturned on appeal in 2011.
An Oktibbeha County jury heard opening arguments and the state's first witness Monday afternoon. In addition to the standard twelve jurors, two alternate jurors are serving as well.
Holliman is accused of the 2008 shooting death of his wife, Laura Lee Godfrey Holliman, in their Caledonia home. Holliman originally claimed his wife committed suicide but later said he accidentally shot her with a shotgun during an argument. Holliman was convicted of the murder in 2009. In 2011, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict citing a violation of the Golden Rule Act by prosecuting attorney Forrest Allgood. The Golden Rule Act states prosecutors cannot ask the jurors to imagine themselves as the victim of a crime. The case is being tried in Oktibbeha County after Holliman's lawyer, Steve Farese Sr., succeeding in getting a change of venue.
Allgood gave a very brief opening argument.
Speaking of Brian Holliman's call to the E-911 dispatcher after Laura Lee's death, Allgood said, "He told the dispatcher a story. A story which would lead one to believe that what had happened in the house at 770 North Wolfe Road that afternoon was that Laura Lee Holliman had taken her own life.
"The state intends to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that every word he uttered on that call was a lie, that what happened in that house was not a suicide. It was a homicide."
In his opening argument, Farese, who also represented Holliman during his 2009 trial, addressed the jury saying, "Ladies and gentleman of the jury...you just heard the word homicide. Brian Holliman, the defendant is not charged with homicide. He's charged with murder. There is a difference. You will hear that difference," he said.
"Yes, you will hear that Brian Holliman lied. You will hear that he panicked. You will hear that he was in shock. You will hear that he was crying uncontrollably. You will hear how he was afraid that if he told the truth no one would believe him. He's absolutely right because when he did tell the truth, no one believed him. But you won't hear one iota, one shred of evidence, that proves to you beyond a reasonable doubt that this was intentional."
After opening arguments the state requested a recess to prepare their evidence. During the 15 minute recess, Holliman's current wife, Allison, spoke with her husband while comparing notes. The two married in March.
Holliman's mother is expected to be called as a witness, which meant she could not attend Monday's court session.
Holliman's appearance has dramatically changed since his 2009 trial. He has grown out his hair, appeared tan and has since grown a goatee.
takes the stand
After the recess, the state called Katie Godfrey, the younger sister of Laura Lee Holliman, as its first witness.
During her first few minutes on the stand, Godfrey, who was 14 years old at the time of her sister's death, provided jurors with a history of the relationship between her sister and the defendant.
According to Godfrey, Brian and Laura Lee Holliman eloped in December 2004. They were later married in an official ceremony in March 2005. Godfrey said her family was unaware that the couple married in December until their March vows.
Laura Lee had one child from a previous relationship, Raylee Parker, who was five years old at the time of her mother's death. Brian Holliman has a son, Brooks Holliman, from a previous marriage. Brooks was also five years old at the time of Laura Lee's death. Laura Lee and Brian Holliman had a daughter together, Brianna. Brianna was two years old when her mother died.
During Godfrey's testimony, Godfrey told Allgood and jurors what she observed during the two times she lived with the Hollimans and what she observed on the day of her sister's death, Oct. 25, 2008.
Godfrey was 12 years old the first time she moved in with her sister and Brian Holliman in 2006. During that time, she told Allgood that it was common for her sister and Holliman to argue.
"After a couple months it got kind of hectic," she said. "There was a lot of arguing. It was too much to handle."
Godfrey said she moved out of the home after a couple of months.
Then, when her mother was sentenced to prison in 2008, she moved back in with her sister and Holliman.
Godfrey said the couple still continued to argue.
"They were always arguing," she said.
Over the course of her two hours in testimony, Godfrey painted a picture of a jealous and controlling husband. Godfrey said Holliman would repeatedly call Laura Lee's cell phone when he could not get in touch with her.
Then, days before the murder, Godfrey said Holliman told her that he had a life insurance policy on Laura Lee.
"He comes up and says that he has a life insurance on my sister that she doesn't know about for $100,000. He said if she died, she doesn't know about it," Godfrey testified.
Several days after Godfrey and Holliman's conversation about the life insurance policy, Godfrey said Laura Lee and Brian got into an argument.
"I'm not really sure what they were arguing about, but my sister came home and she started packing her car," Godfrey said. "She came home and immediately went to her room and started taking clothes out of the closet and throwing them in the back of her car, I kept asking her what she was doing and she said we were leaving. I said, 'OK, where are we going?' and she said she didn't know yet."
Godfrey testified that while Laura Lee was packing her car, Brian Holliman drove into the driveway with their two young daughters. Godfrey said she and her friend, Megan Swells, took the children out of the house when the couple began to argue. Godfrey walked back in the house and witnessed Brian Holliman attempting to confine Laura Lee in the closet.
"I walked in there and he had pulled the computer desk in front of the door and she kept screaming to let her out and he kept screaming back at her," Godfrey said. "She was screaming as loud as she could (for him) to let her out and he kept telling her no."
Godfrey said in the middle of the argument, Brian Holliman's mother, Sarah Holliman, came to the house.
"I didn't know what to do. I was scared. He was standing in between me and the closet door and I didn't know what to say, I didn't know how to approach the subject but by the time I realized what was happening, Sarah Holliman came in."
Godfrey testified that Laura Lee went to the hospital that night but the teenager did not know why.
The day of the death
Several days later, on Oct. 25, Godfrey went up to the football fields in Caledonia where Laura Lee was coaching pee wee cheerleaders. According to Godfrey, Holliman came up to the fields that morning and began yelling at Laura Lee.
"Laura Lee was in the middle of teaching her cheerleaders and Brian was standing at the fence, close to the fields, screaming at her, trying to get her attention. He was telling her to come here, that he needed to talk to her, that it was important and she wasn't paying attention to him.
"He seemed frustrated, angry, like he didn't know what to do or how to get her attention."
After the family arrived back at home later that afternoon, Godfrey said Holliman told her he knew his marriage was over.
"He told me he could tell it was over between the two of them," she said. Godfrey said she went back to Laura Lee and Brian's bedroom to check on her sister.
"I went to check on Laura Lee and asked if she was OK. She said yeah. She said Brian was stupid," Godfrey said. "She acted like she was frustrated."
Godfrey said she made plans to go to Swells house and Laura Lee was planning to go to a friend's house in Sulligent, Ala., to watch a football game. While the two were making plans, Godfrey said Brian came in the bedroom and began questioning them.
"He acted hysterical, like he had a fake cry but there weren't any tears...He was more just hyperventilating at this point," she said. Then, Godfrey testified Holliman gave her the keys to his vehicle and told her to leave.
"He came back and handed me his car keys and told me to just go," she said. Godfrey, who at age 14 did not have a driver's license or permit, said she was hesitant about driving.
"I looked back at Laura Lee and she said, 'It's OK. Just be extremely careful," she said.
Godfrey's friend Swells came over to the home and the two drove back to Swells house together. Once at Swells' home, Godfrey realized she had forgotten some items. She testified that she called Holliman and told him she was coming back and he informed her all of her items were in Laura Lee's car.
When Godfrey arrived at the home, she saw the children in the yard but testified she did not see Holliman or her sister.
Minutes after Godfrey left the scene, she said she received a text message from a friend asking why the police were at her home. When she drove back to the home, she went next door to Brian Holliman's parents and saw Brian sitting on the couch.
"He hugged me. He was still sitting on the couch, and told me he didn't want anyone to hate him," she said.
On cross examination, Farese questioned Godfrey on two differing statements that she gave police. In a handwritten statement, Godfrey said there was nothing unusual about her sister or Holliman's behavior that day. The written statement did not mention that she witnessed her sister and Brian arguing. The typed statement, however, mentioned the argument.
The trial will continue today with Godfrey once again on the witness stand.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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