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Saturday, March 28, 1998

Canyon jury asks for death penalty against Brittany Holberg

CANYON, Texas (AP) -- A onetime prostitute is the first Texas woman to be sentenced to die since Karla Faye Tucker was executed on Feb. 3.

Brittany Marlowe Holberg wailed "Oh my God!" and collapsed into her attorney's lap when she was sentenced late Thursday to die for killing an 80-year-old man in his Amarillo apartment in 1996.

State District Judge Patrick Pirtle pronounced the sentence after a Randall County jury ended 11 hours of deliberation by concluding the 25-year-old woman constitutes a continuing threat to society.

The jury said that it found no mitigating factors to warrant the only other possible sentence, life in prison.

The body of A.B. Towery Sr. was found on Nov. 14, 1996, in his southwest Amarillo apartment. A knife protruded from Towery's torso. He also had been stabbed with a paring knife, a butcher knife, a grapefruit knife and two forks. An autopsy revealed 58 stab wounds.

A foot-long lamp pole was shoved more than five inches down his throat.

"She didn't just kill A.B. Towery," Randall County District Attorney James Farren told jurors. "She butchered him. She slaughtered him."

Defense attorney Catherine Brown Dodson argued that Towery was wrongly portrayed as an innocent elderly man. She said Ms. Holberg was a prostitute who acted in self-defense when Towery, a client, attacked her.

Ms. Holberg was convicted on March 13 after the same jury deliberated for five hours. The sentencing phase was delayed because one of the jurors had pre-set vacation plans.

Ms. Holberg eluded West Texas law officers for three months. She was arrested in Tennessee after "America's Most Wanted" aired a segment on the case, calling her the nation's No. 1 fugitive.

After the program, investigators received more than 300 phone calls in connection with the case, and she was arrested on Feb. 17, 1997, outside a McDonald's restaurant in Memphis.

According to Memphis police, Ms. Holberg admitted to stabbing Towery, hitting him with a claw hammer and leaving a lamp pole embedded down his throat to silence his gurgling.

Ms. Holberg said she was high on crack cocaine when she took a cab on Nov. 13, 1996, to the apartment complex where Towery lived.

Prosecutors said the two met for the first time on that day, but defense attorneys said she had an ongoing sexual relationship with Towery and that she killed him in self-defense.

Ms. Dodson said Towery became violent when he found a crack pipe on Ms. Holberg. He struck her twice with a metal pan and threatened her with a knife, she told the jury.

"She wanted to know: ÔWhy are you hitting me? Why are you doing this?' " Ms. Dodson said.

Ms. Holberg stuck the lamp post in Towery's mouth and stabbed him once with his knife to repel his attack, Ms. Dodson said. Then, fearing no one would believe a drug-abusing prostitute, she fled to Tennessee, the defense attorney added.

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