BY BRIAN JONES
Convicted murderer Brian Holliman will remain behind bars after the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected his appeal.
Holliman was twice convicted of the 2008 murder of his wife, Laura Lee Holliman. His first conviction was overturned by the state supreme court due to prosecutorial misconduct. He was granted a retrial, and convicted again in 2013. Holliman appealed this most recent conviction, and the high court denied his appeal on Sept. 17.
Holliman appealed on the grounds that some of the evidence the presented to the jury was improper. He also claimed that the evidence presented was insufficient to lead to a conviction of murder.
The supreme court disagreed, stating: “In this case, the State presented copious evidence that Holliman had harbored deliberate design to kill when he shot Laura. Holliman and Laura were not engaged in friendly horseplay when the shooting occurred. Rather, Laura had asked Holliman for a divorce that morning, and Holliman was angry…He admitted that, when he pointed the gun at Laura, he was upset because he did not know where she planned to go. Mere moments after Holliman shot Laura, he moved the gun and body to stage a suicide and called 911 to report Laura’s suicide…Although the forensic evidence was consistent with Holliman’s story that the gun went off when Laura struck it with her hand, the jury reasonably could have found that Holliman shot Laura intentionally and the injuries to her hand occurred when she was trying to avoid being shot. The jury reasonably could have found that Holliman’s actions in staging and reporting a suicide were an attempt to cover up an intentional killing, not an accident. While Holliman said in his statement that he pointed the shotgun at Laura with the intent to scare her and the shooting was accidental, a rational jury could have found that Holliman pointed a loaded shotgun with the safety off at Laura and pulled the trigger with the intent to kill her. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, a rational jury could have found the elements of first-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt.”
First Conviction Thrown Out
Brian Holliman was first convicted of his wife’s murder in December 2009. His attorney, Steve Farese, argued that District Attorney Forrest Allgood violated the so-called “Golden Rule” when, during his closing argument, he repeatedly asked jurors how they would feel with a loaded shotgun pointed at their face. The “Golden Rule” states that lawyers are not allowed to ask jurors to put themselves in a victim’s shoes.
According to court documents, Allgood said to jurors: In the statement that [Brian Holliman] gave on Oct. 29th . . . this defendant admitted – I believe the exact words in the statement are: I purposely pointed my shotgun at Laura Lee Holliman. He purposely pointed a loaded shotgun with the safety off and his finger on the trigger at another human being.
I grew up with guns. And I’m not one to play with them. If I did not have the respect with them that I do, then perhaps it would have been a dramatic thing for me to take that shotgun over there, open the breach, and walk in front of the jury and point it at each and every one of you. What would you have felt if I had done that, Ladies and Gentlemen? Let’s change that a little bit. Let’s say that I took a round and put it in the chamber and then walked before you, once again pointing it at each and every one of you, with the safety off and my hand not on the trigger, how would you feel? Would you squirm? You think you might duck?
Let’s suppose that I take that loaded shotgun, I point it at you in your face, and I knock the safety off. I still don’t have the finger on the trigger. How would you feel then? Would you feel threatened, Ladies and Gentlemen? Would you think that I was irresponsible or worse? Would you feel the danger and the presence of it? Let’s say that I put the round in the gun, and I take the safety off, and I put my finger on the trigger, and I point it at you as I come down this line. You’d be outraged. And you should be. Because what I’m doing when I do that is creating a situation that fatal consequences may very likely occur.
The state supreme court overturned his conviction in late 2011, and he was released from prison in early 2012.
He was retried in 2013 and convicted again. The second trial took place in Oktibbeha County after the defense requested a change of venue.
Facts of the Case
Brian Holliman lived with his wife and her 14-year-old sister, Katie, in Caledonia. On Oct. 25, 2008, Brian Holliman called 911 and reported that his wife had shot herself. He told the 911 operator that he had been in the back yard playing with his two small children and stepchild when he heard the shot and ran inside.
When sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene, they found Laura Holliman lying on the bedroom floor, with her feet inside the closet and her head pointed toward the bed. Her right arm was draped over her face, and the barrel of a Remington 870 shotgun was underneath her chin. Brian Holliman told deputies that his fingerprints were on the gun because he had moved it aside to check for a pulse. They testified that Brian Holliman was acting like he was crying, but there were no tears in his eyes.
Brian Holliman also stated that his wife had been sick and, due to her illness, he had removed all guns from the house because she had been talking about “taking the easy way out” to deal with her health problems. He said he had forgotten that there was a shotgun under the bed.
When investigators moved Laura Holliman’s body, they found that the ring finger of her right hand had nearly been severed, and that it had black marks on it consistent with the choke on a shotgun. The shotgun had only been loaded with one shell.
Later that day Brian Holliman gave investigators a statement in which he described his wife’s death as a suicide. Several days later, Detective Eli Perrigin discovered a gun safe in the bedroom that contained two rifles, a shotgun and a box of shells. As a result, Perrigin asked Brian Holliman to return to the sheriff’s office. This time he admitted to shooting his wife, but claimed it was an accident. He said that he and Laura Holliman had been “fussing.” He said he pointed the shotgun at her, and she grabbed the barrel and pushed it away from her. When she did, the gun went off. He said he moved the gun to stage a suicide because he “didn’t want people to think that I shot her.”
Holliman was arrested the next day. Later that night, he asked to meet with Perrigin, and he gave a third statement. This time his story was that he “pointed the gun at Laura to scare her to tell me where she was going.” As he was lowering the gun, she “shocked up and it hit her in the upper body. Laura was standing about two foot from me and then end of the barrel was touching her. I don’t remember how she did it, but I remember she hit the gun and I was jarred and the gun went off.”
He said he tried to make the scene look like a suicide because “even if it was an accident, I was going to going to get locked up.” He also told Perrigin that the night before the shooting she had told him she wanted a divorce.
The medical examiner testified that the manner of death was homicide, and that the muzzle of the gun was a few inches to several feet away when it was fired. A firearms analyst testified that the gun did not have a hair trigger, and that testing found it would not fire during a three-foot drop from any angle. However, he did state that if someone had their finger on the trigger with the safety off and someone pulled on the muzzle it could cause an unintentional discharge.
At the trial, numerous witnesses testified that Brian Holliman and Laura Holliman argued frequently. Laura Holliman’s sister, Katie, testified that Brian Holliman told her he had taken a $100,000 life insurance policy out on Laura. She also testified that, a week before the murder, she said Brian lock Laura in the closet during an argument.
Laura Holliman’s friend Angela Jones testified that Laura Holliman called her minutes before the shooting and said she was in the bedroom closet, and that “Brian was being a butt.” Laura Holliman said she was planning to go to a friend’s house in Sulligent, Ala., to watch a football game. Brian Holliman called 911 about five minutes later.0