August 16, 2013 10:39:16 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
A jury found Brian Holliman guilty of first-degree murder after seven hours of deliberation Thursday.
Holliman, 32, was convicted in the 2008 shooting death of his wife, Laura Lee Godfrey Holliman. Jurors found Brian Holliman demonstrated "expressed malice" when he shot his wife in the face with a shotgun.
Holliman claimed the incident was an accident after initially saying it was a suicide.
After being in deliberations for roughly an hour, the jury asked to listen to Holliman's 911 call on the day of the shooting. On that call he told a dispatcher that his wife had shot herself. After listening to the tape in open court, jury members went back into the jury room and some could be heard yelling from behind the closed door.
During the long wait for the jury to return with a verdict, Brian Holliman could be seen pacing the courthouse halls with tears in his eyes. Asked how he was feeling, he said, "I'm OK. I just need this to be over."
Later, when the jury had returned and the circuit court clerk stood to read the verdict, family members on both sides of the courtroom grabbed each other's hands bracing for the verdict. When the words "we, the jury, find Brian Holliman guilty of murder in the first degree" were read, a collective sigh of relief came from Laura Lee Holliman's family.
Brian Holliman hung his head. His wife, Allison, sitting directly behind her husband, stared into space and appeared to try to catch her breath.
Holliman was sentenced to life in prison.
His family declined to comment after the four-day trial. His attorney, Steve Farese Sr., said he will appeal the verdict to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
When asked what the verdict meant for his client, Farese replied, "It means that he's been sentenced to life in prison. It means we start working on the appeal."
This marks the second time Holliman has been convicted of murdering Laura Lee.
His first conviction, in 2009, was overturned on appeal by the state Supreme Court.
Unlike the first trial, Farese rested the defense case Thursday morning without calling any witnesses.
When asked if he felt that not calling witnesses might have affected the verdict, Farese said, "There's no way to know that. There's no way to know that."
"You wrestle with that each and every case but you have to weigh the pros and the cons and that's a strategic decision that you think is best at the time," he said.
Two juries have now convicted Holliman of murder. District Attorney Forrest Allgood, who prosecuted the case, said that did not necessarily affect his approach to the second trial.
"I don't know if the fact that a second jury reached the same conclusion necessarily means anything to me," he said. "Different juries sometimes reach different conclusions simply because they're comprised of different people. People see things differently."
He added, "We've had two juries that did see it the same way now."
A new law went into effect in July that gives jurors the option to choose between first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter when deciding a defendant's guilt. During his closing arguments, Allgood explained the differences among the three options to jurors. However, he said he was not concerned that the new options would be an issue.
"It sounds confusing because there are so many different options but I really don't think it's that confusing, the concept. It's really not as complex as it sounds. First degree murder is expressed malice, second degree murder is implied malice and I really wasn't concerned that they were going to get confused over those issues, I didn't think it would be a problem," he said.
After the guilty verdict was read, Brian Holliman was immediately taken into custody.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.