Intellectually Disabled Alabama Death Row Inmate Wins Relief from Death Sentence


The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed today that Alabama death row inmate Glenn Holladay cannot be executed because he is intellectually disabled. EJI’s Bryan Stevenson orally argued the case before the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta last April. The decision makes Mr. Holladay the first death row prisoner in Alabama to win, over the State’s opposition, a claim that the Constitution prohibits his execution because of his intellectual disability.

Glenn Holladay was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1987. In May 2003, he came within days of being executed. EJI attorneys represented Mr. Holladay and obtained a stay of execution.

EJI also succeeded in getting permission from the Eleventh Circuit to file a petition to vacate Mr. Holladay’s death sentence under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), the United States Supreme Court’s decision announcing that persons with intellectual disability cannot be executed.

Mr. Holladay filed a petition in the federal trial court asking for relief from his death sentence under Atkins. With different counsel, he presented evidence from family members, prison guards and doctors, his previous lawyers, and mental health experts to show that he is intellectually disabled.

Evidence of Intellectual Disability

Mr. Holladay has been administered IQ tests eleven times, starting when he was nine years old. The first time, his full scale IQ score was 49; twenty days later, he scored 56 on the same test. When he was fourteen, his full scale IQ was measured at 54. The mean of all his IQ scores is well below 70, which Alabama courts use as the cut-off point for intellectual disability.

Glenn Holladay’s school records present a picture of a child with severe learning difficulties. He was held back in school twice and placed in special education classes. He obtained consistently low grades and only completed sixth grade. Mr. Holladay remains functionally illiterate.

Mr. Holladay also has significant adaptive deficits in a number of areas, including work. He was unable to keep a job. In helping with his father’s painting business, he could not be depended on to buy paint, he would set a ladder upside down, and he did not know the difference between a screwdriver and a scraper. He was unable to work the machines at Kelly Tire and could not even operate satisfactorily as a “runner” in prison.

State Fought to Execute Intellectually Disabled Man

During Mr. Holladay’s trial in 1987, both the judge and the prosecutor characterized Mr. Holladay as “slightly mentally retarded.” But, after the Supreme Court announced in 2002 that people with intellectual disability cannot be executed, the State of Alabama argued that Mr. Holladay was not intellectually disabled and moved forward with plans to execute him in May 2003.

The execution was stopped only after EJI obtained a stay and Mr. Holladay received permission to file a second or “successive” petition in federal court.

The federal district court held an evidentiary hearing and found that Mr. Holladay is intellectually disabled and that he was thus barred from the death penalty. Despite this finding, the State appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing for permission to execute Mr. Holladay.

In its decision announced today, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with EJI and the district court that Mr. Holladay is intellectually disabled and cannot be executed.