A Jacksonville man sentenced to life in prison for rape while the co-defendant who testified against him got less than a year in Duval County jail was released last week after 25 years behind bars. DNA evidence that questions Billy Joe Holton’s involvement in the case brought some attention to his plight, but a Jacksonville judge said the disparity between his life sentence and the deal for the co-defendant who admitted to the same crime is what led to his decision to release Holton, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Holton was sentenced to time served, but must be on strict Duval County sex offender probation for 10 years that limits where he can live and requires frequent visits and contact with a probation officer. Holton’s sentence was based partially on incorrect information as well, according to the newspaper report. Sentences are determined by what the court refers to as sentencing guidelines. Various factors, primarily the type of crime and the defendant’s criminal history, are plugged into a formula to determine a numeric range of time in prison the defendant is likely to face. Judges are often hesitant to give sentences outside of the guideline range. In Holton’s case, his guidelines included an armed robbery that occurred after the rape and should not have been a factor in his sentence, the newspaper reported. Without that charge on his record, Holton’s guidelines would not have called for a life sentence.
Tim Smith testified that he and Holton broke into a Springfield home and both raped the woman, taking turns holding her son, the newspaper reported. They told her to lay under a blanket while they left. Police found semen on that blanket, the newspaper reported. Smith was sentenced to the seven months he’d already served in jail awaiting trial and was set free. Holton got life. But in 2009, new DNA technology was used to test the semen on the blanket and Holton was ruled out. Other attorneys are working to overturn the conviction and the judge said in court last week the DNA evidence was part of the reason he let Holton out of prison, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors asked that Holton’s life sentence be upheld. The work on throwing out the conviction can continue, the important part was getting Holton out of prison first – that work can now be done on its own timeline.
Despite having the guidelines, the range is often broad and people can commit similar crimes and have vastly different sentences. Not typically life for one and time served for another, but sentencing disparities definitely exist. And, without question, if one person cooperates and provides significant information that wasn’t known otherwise, the one who helps the state will get a better deal. The strategy involved in the decision to plead and negotiating a sentence rival the strategy needed during a trial, though it doesn’t often get that sort of recognition from people who aren’t around the courthouse every day. Our experienced Jacksonville Rape Lawyer has worked out thousands of cases and tried her share, too, and knows not just if an offer might be worth taking, but when to take it or keeping pushing.
If you or a loved one needs a Sex Crime Defense Attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Sex Lawyer, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.