Hugo Holland

For Caddo Assistant District Attorney Hugo Holland poses with an antique WWII era M1 Garand rifle. One of the many weapons he collects at his home in Shreveport. Holland now helps District Attorney offices in the state prosecute death penalty cases.

Douglas Collier

It was quite appropriate that Hugo Holland posed in what was described as his “mancave,”considering the troglodyte quotes in the profile that accompanied the photograph last Sunday.

Holland, Louisiana's go-to prosecutor in capital cases, hangs out in what was also termed a “bunkerlike work space” bristling with guns, while the world passes him and his obsession by. He devotes his life to securing death penalties, which Louisiana no longer has the stomach to carry out. He has become an anachronism, albeit one sustained by a heartfelt devotion to capital punishment.

Well, that's not the only motivation, for this obsession is a lucrative one. Holland rakes in more than $200,000 a year as he moves from town to town as the would-be harbinger of death.

He not only prosecutes cases in various jurisdictions, but frequently appears before legislative committees to champion the death penalty and decry what he sees as excessive public expenditures for capital defense. For his lobbying efforts, the profile revealed, he is paid “thousands of dollars a year” by the Caddo Parish DA's office.

Evidently, gung-ho prosecutors are keener on enforcing the law than obeying it. Holland's lobbying fees would appear to be illegal under the laws that says “No state employee in his official capacity or on behalf of his employer shall lobby for or against any matter intended to have the effect of law pending before the legislature or any committee thereof.”

In addition to his various one-off gigs, Holland is on the payroll in Calcasieu and Webster parishes, which might be open to question under the state law that prohibits dual office holding. Holland, however, insists he is within the law because all his jobs are regarded as part-time.

He did work full time as a Caddo Parish prosecutor until he was fired in 2012 for obtaining M16 rifles from the Federal Property Assistance Agency by claiming they would be used in joint operations with police that existed only in his imagination.

He does not always play by the rules in court and has been known to suppress exculpatory evidence. He has succeeded in sending 10 men to death row, but five of them had their convictions reversed. He would love to watch the other five executed, but the system has become so sclerotic that he must despair of ever having that pleasure.

It is just as well that we are reluctant to execute, given how many death row inmates have been exonerated and released. That those miscarriages eventually came to light is proof enough, so far as Holland is concerned, that the system is working, a view not shared by men who spent years on death row for murders they did not commit.

Holland recognizes that the death penalty is not a deterrent, but needs no justification beyond the Old Testament principle of an eye for an eye. He has seen enough bloody scenes to conclude, “The only thing we can do with animals who do stuff like that is put them down.”

This is clearly a man passionate about his work, and district attorneys say Holland is a highly competent prosecutor. He endorses their opinion. "I'm not ashamed of the fact that I worked my way through college and law school, and I've developed a skill set that people are willing to pay for," he said. "I can take a case that would take a five-year assistant district attorney two hours to review, and I can review it in 10 minutes.”

Regardless, the whole edifice was in danger of tumbling down a few weeks ago when a bill was filed to abolish Louisiana's death penalty. Among its sponsors was state Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, a former sheriff whose public pronouncements in recent years indicated he no longer supported capital punishment, albeit not as a matter of moral principle. Pylant repeatedly pointed out that we are wasting millions on a death penalty we have lost the will to enforce.

Holland naturally appeared before the committee to lobby against the bill, which failed when Pylant changed his mind again and cast the deciding vote. Holland must have breathed a sign of relief when he returned to his cave.

Email James Gill at jgill@theadvocate.com.