Holberg hearing comes to a close

Holberg hearing comes to a close
Brittany Holberg
Brittany Holberg

CANYON, TX - A hearing on behalf of death row inmate Brittany Holberg came to a close Thursday after eight full days of testimony.

Holberg was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in March of 1998 for the murder 80-year-old A.B Towery in his Amarillo apartment in November of 1996. Towery was stabbed more than 50 times, beaten, and had a lamp post shoved down his throat.

In May, The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered that a Randall County court hear testimony from Holberg's original defense team to investigate allegations that the original defense "threw the case" by not presenting mitigating evidence that could have spared Holberg from the death penalty.

During the hearing, which started Tuesday, October 9, the state and Holberg's current defense squared off on whether Holberg's original defense team properly prepared for and presented adequate mitigating evidence during the punishment phase of the trial.

Defense attorneys Candace Norris, and Cathy Dodson each took the stand for several hours over the course of the hearing, as did Kathy Garrison and Jim Patteron, private investigators hired by Norris and Dodson.

Holberg's current defense, a team based out of San Francisco, claims the original defense failed to investigate leads that would have provided the mitigating evidence needed for a jury to have mercy on Holberg and spare her life. They say the lack of sufficient defense violated Holberg's 6th amendment right to counsel, and the jury's right to knowledge in making an informed decision.

Thursday, the state and Holberg's current defense team gave closing arguments on the hearing.

The defense stated that in a case with such a brutal crime scene, mitigating evidence is crucial, and the original defense had "no clear strategy on presenting" it and they were "making it up as they went along."

"It was a haphazard mitigation investigation," said H. Christian L'Orange, one of Holberg's attorneys.

The team of attorneys accused Norris and Dodson of not preparing Dr. Dhiren Patel, the medical witness for the defense, on the mitigation phase of the trial.

Patel diagnosed Holberg with post-traumatic stress disorder, battered woman syndrome, and chemical dependance, but gave no examples of Holberg's traumatic past to back up his diagnosis.

L'Orange also brought up alleged sexual abuse of Holberg by her step-father that was never brought up in the original trial.

In closing argument for the state, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Kuykendall, the scope of the hearing had been taken "way past what was ordered" by the Criminal Court of Appeals.

Kuykendall said the purpose of the hearing was not to look back in hindsight on what the original defense could have done differently, but to prove they did not provide "reasonable professional assistance."

"A defense council does not have the duty to scour the globe on the off-chance something may turn up," she said. "The defense took a reasonable strategy."

Before closing arguments, Holberg's defense asked Judge Richard Dambold for a bench warrant to expedite the process of getting Holberg released from the state penitentary in Gainsville next week in order to get nueropsychological testing done at the University of Texas Medical Center in Galveston. Dambold denied the request, saying it was outside the scope of the hearing.

Results of the hearing will likely not come down until some time next year. The state and defense have until December 2 to send their findings of the hearing to Dambold, then Dambold must submit his findings to the Court of Criminal Appeals.