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Murder charge ends in 5-year sentence for battered wife. By Anne Thrower




Paducah Sun: Saturday, August 14, 2004

Cassandra Holland will serve 13 years in prison for the death of her husband if the manslaughter sentence recommended Friday by a McCracken Circuit Court jury is followed Sept. 10.

Holland's attorney, Mark Bryant, said he will ask Judge Jeff Hines to give her probation instead. That is an option if Hines concludes Holland was a battered spouse.

The eight-man, four-woman jury convicted Holland of first-degree manslaughter and third-degree arson. The recommendation was that she serve 13 years for the manslaughter conviction and one year for the arson conviction, with the terms to run concurrently.

Normally, a first-degree manslaughter conviction would require that Holland serve 85 percent, or 11 years. But if Hines follows the jury's recommendation and determines that she is a battered spouse, she could be eligible for parole after serving only 20 percent, or about 2 1/2 years.

The sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Holland has been in jail since the July 6, 2003, death of her husband, L.J. Holland, who died of burn-related injuries. Holland admitted to the jury that she threw gas and a match on her husband at their mobile home off Clark's River Road but didn't intend to kill him. He died the next day at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

The jury deliberated about five hours before returning the manslaughter verdict about 2:30 p.m. The maximum prison term could have been 20 years. The original charge was murder and first-degree arson. The jury found Holland not guilty of two counts of wanton endangerment. Those charges related to the two people sleeping next door. They were not injured.

Holland responded to the verdict by hugging Bryant. The roughly 20 spectators — mostly Cassandra Holland's family and friends — who had gathered in the courtroom to hear the verdict showed no emotion.

During the sentencing phase, the jury heard from several of Cassandra Holland's family and friends.

Holland's youngest sister, Bridgett McCargo of Alexandria, Va., said Cassandra Holland was like a second mother to her and the caretaker of the Holland family after her mother died.

"All of us have depended on her," McCargo said. "She deserves to have the rest of her life free."

The Rev. W.G. Harvey Sr., pastor at New Greater Love Baptist Church, said he had known Holland since she was a young person. He called her a kind, loving person, who was friendly and always had a smile.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Jim Harris asked Lashell Moore, 34, L.J. Holland's daughter, to testify on behalf of his family. "This has been the hardest year of my life," Moore said.

Cassandra Holland wept as Moore described seeing her father lying in a hospital bed at Vanderbilt. Moore said Holland has not communicated any regret to her.

Three people — including the two psychiatrists who had evaluated Holland — testified that she would not be a danger to anyone else. "She's not a career criminal," said Dr. Frank Deland with the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center. Holland had no felony record.

Bryant said he was elated by the sentence, admitting his main concern was to see that Holland did not get a death sentence.

"Cassandra Holland is at peace," Bryant said after the trial. "She's made peace with God." Although he asked the jury to find Holland not guilty, he said he never thought she would be acquitted.

Commonwealth Attorney Tim Kaltenbach said he got a lot of pressure from Bryant, who said community members were upset because Kaltenbach was seeking the death penalty.

But L.J. Holland's family never asked him to drop the death penalty, he said, adding that the case was prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.

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