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Condemned man called 'most retarded man on death row'

By JOE PARHAM

ATLANTA -- A lawyer will try this week to persuade Georgia's Supreme Court to overturn the sentenceof Jerome Holloway, a convicted killer described as 'the most retarded man on death row anywhere in the nation.'

Holloway was condemned for the March 5, 1986, robbery-murder of Corabelle Berry, an elderly black woman in Bryan County.

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Holloway, who does not know the year of his birth but is believed to be either 29 or 30, was described in briefs filed by his appeals attorney as a black man who is 'poor and illiterate and totally without the mental facilities to understand the fate which awaited him' when he went on trial.

During the trial last January, Dr. Brad Fisher, director of the Criminal Justice Resource Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., tested Holloway and the defendant was incapable of understanding the court proceedings.

Fisher said last week his findings confirmed state psychologists' findings that Holloway's IQ was 49.

'The IQ of 49 was not just by my testing, but it was confirmed by others who had tested him before,' said Fisher. 'It is my opinion now as it was during the trial that Jerome Holloway is the most retarded man on death row anywhere in the nation.'

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The national average IQ is about 100, said Fisher.

'To translate into layman's terms,' said Fisher, 'a person with an IQ of 49 is someone you don't expect is going to be able to make change from a dollar bill, someone who can't even follow directions through town or understand abstract terms. Sure enough, in Jerome Holloway's case, those things were true.'

Holloway signed a confession prepared by Bryan County investigators stating he killed Cory Berry by hitting her with a stick and a kerosene lamp in her home. Holloway, who cannot read or write, had learned to sign his name.

The state, in its answer to the brief seeking to overturn his death sentence, called the crime 'a cold-hearted, brutal and violent murder of an innocent and defenseless elderly victim.'

Defense attorney Clive Stafford Smith said Holloway doesn't understand the meanings of such terms as ''waiving rights' or 'rights' or 'incriminate' or 'evidence' -- he just doesn't understand these things.'

Smith said the fact there was never a competency hearing to determine if Holloway understood the charges against him and what was going on in the trial court 'was preposterous, certainly absurd.'

Fisher, a clinical psychologist in a program set up by the former Law Enforcement Assistance Administration to train psychiatrists to work in prison situations, has reviewed death row inmates in almost all of the 37 states that have the penalty.

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'Jerome Holloway does not have the capability to understand the court process and what attorneys are arguing and how it all relates to his own future. I think he's incapable of those abstract things.

'When you start with the assumption that here's a person in that level of retardation there are important issues about the extent to which they can do, like help their attorneys to effectively develop a case, understand what is going in a courtroom, understand the nature of charges against them, the whole area of law,' said Fisher.

The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday.

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