For the second time in six months, the Utah Supreme Court has vacated the conviction and death sentence of accused multiple killer James Louis Holland.
Holland, 56, was once called a "prime candidate" for the death penalty by his own attorney.He will now get a new competency hearing before 3rd District Judge Homer Wilkinson because he may have been mentally incompetent when he pleaded guilty and was represented by ineffective counsel, according to a split decision released Friday.
The court said that Holland's attorney, former Summit County public defender Elliot Levine, "failed to function as effective counsel."
"Among other things, it is unclear . . . whether Levine carefully analyzed the law and the facts and laid out the options for Holland . . . or whether he simply encouraged Holland to plead guilty on the basis of his own judgment that Holland was guilty of capital homicide."
The justices also found that Judge Wilkinson ignored expert testimony that Holland suffered from bipolar or manic/depressive illness making him impulsive when he pleaded guilty in September 1987.
Justice Leonard Russon authored the majority decision, which was signed by justices I. Daniel Stewart and Christine Durham. Justice Richard Howe and Chief Justice Michael Zimmerman dissented.
"There was no evidence that (Holland) was factually or rationally out of touch with the realities of the criminal proceedings . . . he was always well rooted in reality," Howe wrote.
He also criticized the majority for "gratuitously" assuming Levine was ineffective without requiring any proof.
Holland pleaded guilty to the shooting death of 70-year-old Sandy Patt at an I-84 rest stop. Two weeks later the court sentenced him to die. He later challenged the conviction and his sentence to the Supreme Court, which confirmed the conviction but remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing.
The district court subsequently affirmed the sentence, which was reversed by the Supreme Court last January. Earlier, the high court also had disqualified Levine for ineffective counsel.
The successful appeal Friday was brought by Holland's new attorney, Bruce Savage.
In addition to the Utah murder, Holland was convicted of killing Karl Behm, 24, at a rest stop near the Utah-Idaho border in July 1987. Previously, he had served 20 years for a 1964 killing at the same rest stop.
According to court records, he told a Utah investigator after his arrest for Patt's death that he "was tired of hurting people and tired of killing people. And if they ever let him back out of prison again, he would continue to kill people."
A new competency hearing date has not yet been scheduled before the trial court.