Article Comment 

Four cases of bad judgment




The decision by a sitting town mayor, a former state representative and two Lowndes County legislators to join a petition for a change of venue in a local capital murder case is a cautionary tale about the intersection of justice and politics. It is also a flagrant example of bad judgment by four men who should know better. 


Brian Holliman stands accused of murdering his wife, Laura, at their Caledonia home on Oct. 25, 2008. Initially reported as a suicide, a Lowndes County Sheriff''s Office investigator said Holliman later confessed to the crime. 


Holliman has been free on $200,000 bond since November, and his trial has been postponed several times. 


There have been twists and turns in the case. Holliman was initially held on $1 million bond, but was released by the Sheriff''s Department after his father, Doug Holliman, put the family''s land holdings up for collateral. Then, Holliman was rearrested after outcry from family and friends of the victim, who accused the Sheriff''s Department of giving him preferential treatment. His bond was later lowered, and he was again released on bond. 


Questions also swirled around the initial investigation into the crime. According to authorities, the case was originally accepted by the Sheriff''s Department as a suicide until Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant, who had been out of town, returned to examine the scene with a state pathologist. 


Into this drama wade Caledonia Mayor George Gerhart; District 17 Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus; Columbus Municipal School trustee and former state Rep. Bruce Hanson and District 39 Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, who also serves as Caledonia town attorney.  


Changes of venue are frequently granted in capital murder trials -- and from the defense''s standpoint, the more ammo a defense attorney has to throw at the judge, the better. Steve Farese, Holliman''s attorney, is doing his job, and doing it well. 


Is a change of venue warranted? That''s not for us to decide here, or opine upon -- nor is the defendant''s guilt or innocence. 


But we believe our elected officials'' decision to add their name to the case was a poor one. They are in effect using their influence -- influence granted to them by the voters -- to influence the justice system. Yes, they may have personal connections to the Hollimans, who are well known in the Caledonia area. They may have no opinion of guilt or innocence either; merely an opinion on whether this defendant can receive a fair trial.  


Yet however noble their intentions, they''ve sparked another trial -- one of public opinion.  


And some may draw the conclusion -- and some have, judging by comments on our Web site -- that Gerhart, Brown, Hanson and Smith are using political muscle to influence a murder case involving a prominent family, that the "good ol'' boy" system is again at work in this case.  


The perception is they stand on the opposite side of "law and order" -- 16th District Attorney Forrest Allgood opposes a change of venue, which he believes will result in yet another continuation. He said he will file his own affidavit, with citizens testifying to the contrary of the original motion''s claims. 


While this perception may not be reality, it is a one that our leaders should know better not to feed.



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Reader Comments

Article Comment bear commented at 10/13/2009 11:38:00 AM:

Terry, "The Stache", especially Gerhart, and Bruce Hanson (who is as irrelevant, politically, as it gets) should all take a long look in the mirror, and then look at their own daughters.
When's the next election? Can I get a yard sign in advance from their opponents?


Article Comment Bridgett commented at 10/13/2009 12:43:00 PM:

So True, bet if this would of been their child, they would be looking at things alot diffent...


Article Comment JC commented at 10/13/2009 1:20:00 PM:

Why bother using ammo if you're just going to throw it? Might as well use rocks or sumpn.


Article Comment Fox commented at 10/13/2009 6:57:00 PM:

Re: "Our View: Four cases of bad judgement" Tuesday paper 10/13: You should know, after your endorsement of Obama. The single worst display of judgement of my lifetime. I know none of the parties involved in the Holliman case, but the four (4) men are right on the money when it comes to a fair trial. Your judgement, as in this case, is costing you much. Just look at where your paper is now. Smaller (intentionally) very little news, and NO classified ads to speak of. Now what does that tell you about your own judgement?


Article Comment Michael Farrow commented at 10/14/2009 8:19:00 AM:

I have read with disappointment the extensive criticisms of the "four" elected and formerly elected official who signed affidavits expressing their opinion to the Court that the Defendant may not receive a fair trial with jurors selected from Lowndes County because of extensive pretrial publicity of this case. These "officials" are also "citizens" of Lowndes County and because of their contact with the public are in perhaps the best position to have a meaningful opinion as to the amount and nature of pretrial publicity in this case to assist the Court in deciding whether pretrial publicity of this case has reached a level as to make a fair trial doubtful or unlikely as a result of extensive pretrial publicity.

As an attorney who has represented Defendants in three capital murder trials where the State was seeking the death penalty and one resentencing of a death row inmate, I can assure you that one of the utmost considerations in attempting to insure a "fair" trial for the Defendant is selection of a fair and impartial jury which will hear the facts of a case and only use the evidence properly admitted at trial and not rely on what they may have read of seen in the media and the opinions they may have formed from their media exposure. We try cases in a courtroom and not in the media. One example, of many examples, is evidence as reported in the media may or may not be misconstrued, exaggerated, or not reported properly by the media, and yet this may been read or seen by potential jurors in the case, or the evidence may later be deemed "inadmissable" by the Court at trial under rules we have established firmly over the years to insure a "fair" trial for anyone accused of a crime. You, simply put, cannot unring a bell that has been rung.

The only penalty under our law for murder is life imprisonment. With such a penalty it is absolutely imperative that the Court conduct not only a fair trial, but a trial free from even the appearance of any impropriety and that means a fair and impartial jury who will be exposed only to evidence properly admitted at the trial for the jury's consideration, not media reports of the facts to be determined by the jury. Cases where the death penalty is an authorized punishment under state law are routinely venue changed to insure a jury pool that has not been exposed to extensive pretrial publicity. It is virtually impossible to have every juror questioned during the jury selection proces called "voir dire" (to speak the truth) to truthfully admit that they might have formed a conclusion or opinion as to the guilt of the Defendant, before being seated as a juror. Virtually no one wants to admit, when questioned by the Court and the attorneys, that they even might be less than fair and impartial as a juror because of pretrial publicity of the case. Almost all of us consider ourselves fair and impartial no matter what prior knowledge we may have of the case at bar, but the severity of the impact upon the future life of the Defendant requires that the Court do its utmost to insure a fair and impartial trial compsed of jurors who have no preconceived opinions as to the guilt or innocence of the Defendant.

The District Attorney frequently uses affidavits or live testimony of public officials to oppose the change of venue motion filed by the Defendant's counsel. Would you or your readers also oppose the DA using such opinions of public officials that the Defendant "could" receive a fair trial in spite of the pretrial publicity? Elected officials opinions are important on this issue of pretrial publicity because of their unique and extensive contact with the public and public opinions, and not because of their status in the community as elected officials. These public officials have not only a right to express their opinions as to the extent of pretrial publicity in any given case, but a duty to express that opinion as those most likely to have their fingers on the public pulse because of their uniquely extensive public contact and knowledge of what is going on in the community. Trials of this nature and the severity of the punishment which may be imposed as a result of a jury verdict, require that the Court do everything within its power to insure a fair and impartial jury for the Defendant and the State. Preconceived opinions and notions, or even the appearance of such, based on pretrial publicity have no place in a criminal trial.
Michael Farrow
Lowndes County Public Defender


Article Comment Thom Geiger commented at 10/14/2009 5:06:00 PM:

Mike, I'll be one of the first (if not THE first) to step up and say I'd have less a problem sitting on a jury for the trial of a defendant accused of a heinous crime, if they represented themselves, than having to sit through a trial with attorneys who can basically lie, cheat and steal in attempting to secure a favorable judgment for their client. Frankly, the way the 'justice' system has evolved in this country makes me sick; putting the victim on trial, allowing defendants and attorneys to intimidate witnesses, paying 'experts' for such novel testimony as genetic predisposition for reeks most of the time, and learned members of the bar control the whole system, as legislators, judges and attorneys. Where else, in this country, do those who profit most from a business control its regulation, legislation, processes and procedures, even to the rules and specifics of what is 'ethical' and what isn't?
Sure, the DA would present whatever evidence to REFUTE the claims by the defense that an impartial jury can't be seated in this county, but AFTER the defense has made the claim in the first place.
But getting past my low regard for the legal profession, quite frankly, I'm surprised that you or anyone else would make the public statement that there are not 12 intelligent, honest and impartial voters in this county who would qualify to sit on a jury in this case. That is, after all, exactly what the defense is saying. Coming from a lawyer, that would be funny if the case were not such a serious one.


Article Comment Bridgett commented at 10/15/2009 8:09:00 AM:

What a come back Thom!!! So So True!!


Article Comment JC commented at 10/15/2009 9:45:00 AM:

Everybody hates lawyers... until they need one.


Article Comment Thom Geiger commented at 10/15/2009 12:22:00 PM:

Who says you can't hire and pay a lawyer and hate them at the same time? They can refuse the work if it hurts their feelings, but I'll bet there's at least one out there who'd take the work, no matter what.
Besides, I never said I hated lawyers, I just detest what they've done to the American legal system. They've done the same thing with the tax system in this country; do your own taxes and, unless you're a tax expert, you lose hundreds, maybe thousands of those nitnoid tax breaks they've peppered the system with. Hire a tax expert and you might get to take advantage of the maze of deductibles and exemptions hidden in the tax code.
The same with the US 'justice' system. No money to hire an attorney (you're a working class stiff) and not poor enough to get a freebie public defender. Then you get the full weight and measure of punishment.
Have a few million in the bank, or even have no job and no money at all, and you can either hire an OJ dream team and shop for a favorable forum and sympathetic experts, or you can get the taxpayers to fund your defense and get more representation than the $30K per year working schmuck with a wife and two kids at home. Ever wonder how so many attorneys end up owning so much property in town?
If the people who make billions off the legal system hadn't created such a legalistic nightmare of contradictory, confusing and convoluted system of 'justice' that affects every man, woman and child in this country, more people might be able to represent themselves and do a decent job at it. It can be done, but the learning curve is horrendous. I do believe the right to represent one's self has been upheld at the highest level. They've just made it so hard that a person would just as soon lose their homes and every cent they have than to even try to do it themselves.
If the President wants to straighten out and simplify something to make people's lives easier and better, he could start with the legal system in this country (both criminal and civil), then the tax system, then...but I doubt that would happen, seeing as he's a lawyer too.


Article Comment JC commented at 10/15/2009 2:50:00 PM:

Couldn't get into law school yourself, eh, Thom?


Article Comment Thom Geiger commented at 10/15/2009 5:54:00 PM:

Is that the best response possible? Looks like something a third grader would come back with, but you're not are you? Are you publicly claiming I have ever tried to enroll in a school of law and been denied? That's a serious accusation to make in a public forum about a private citizen.


Article Comment leroys boy commented at 10/15/2009 6:02:00 PM:

Thom, maybes they oughts to reads yo bulletin board sometimes and theys would seez how you gets off tracks sometimes. You is ramblin yo mouth likes you do on dat board all da time ands its usual bouts nothin anyones carries bout. I wuz glad youz wuz in da debates cause weez all hads sombody to laugh at.

JC, donts pay Tom any minds cause hes jus so jealous of the peoples in town who have mades somethin of demselves. He haz a lots of hates for some of da peoples wid money cause they juss laughs at him alls da times.


Article Comment JC commented at 10/16/2009 10:32:00 AM:

Are you publicly claiming I have ever tried to enroll in a school of law and been denied? That's a serious accusation to make in a public forum about a private citizen.

Why'ncha hire a lawyer and sue me, then?


Article Comment Thom Geiger commented at 10/16/2009 1:00:00 PM:

If a local attorney posts a message on the Dispatch web site under their real name, commenting on a health care issue, and I make the same type of comment, "Couldn't get into medical school yourself, eh Mr. X?", I would most likely get a threatening letter in the mail.
If you don't see the legal implications of implying that sort of thing, in an open public reference to a real, identifiable individual, then any attempt to explain it to you would be pointless.
And no, I wouldn't need an attorney. If your opinion is worth reading at all, then why haven't you posted any facts to refute the assertions I made about the legal profession in general?
It is interesting that my response to Mr. Farrow's comments was the only one deleted from the topic thread. Birney, Peter, I would have expected better. Shades of 2003...


Article Comment JC commented at 10/16/2009 1:13:00 PM:

If you don't see the legal implications of implying that sort of thing, in an open public reference to a real, identifiable individual, then any attempt to explain it to you would be pointless.

C'mon Thom, give it a shot. Give us poor ignoramuses the benefit of your wisdom.

I'll even start you off: recite the elements of defamation, then describe how each has been satisfied. Be sure to discuss possible defenses for full credit!


Article Comment gogottom commented at 10/16/2009 1:22:00 PM:

Come election time, we will win our case. We will vote in favor of the one who is not here to defend herself and against the ones who are.


Article Comment Justin Smith commented at 10/17/2009 8:41:00 AM:

At least she will get a trial...which is a good thing in this case.


Article Comment mark commented at 10/29/2009 8:42:00 AM:

one word for these good ole boys....REDNECKS1


Article Comment Danielle commented at 11/15/2009 9:02:00 AM:

Didn't he confess? Was a plea deal offered?


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