By Roshan Davis
On Sept. 20, the retrial of Aaron Holly, 32, for his involvement in the murder of Tanya Jones-Spence in 2002 took place at the Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Holly, who was 19 at the time of his first sentencing, has spent the last 13 years in prison after receiving a sentence of life without parole. However, due to the Supreme Court’s recent mandate that the use of life without parole should be reserved only for juveniles who have committed crimes that reveal “irreparable corruption”, Holly’s case has been brought back into the light. Judge Vicki Ballou-Watts, who oversaw Holly’s first trial, was also tasked with determining if Holly’s sentence would be reduced or remain the same.
“It was much more intense than anything else I’ve worked on,” said David Reiss, a film professor at Towson University, who was approached by the Baltimore County Public Defender’s office to create a video testimonial for Holly’s case. “Because it was so immediate, you know … the stakes are so high.”
After creating the video, Reiss turned to his film class for feedback, and invited his students to the trial to show support for Holly. “It’s something that you could only really know by going there. Something that film definitely tries to recreate, but actually being there is completely different,” recalled Alec Bacon, one of Reiss’s students who attended the trial. “Someone’s life was on the line.”
After hearing several expert witnesses and viewing the testimonial video made by Reiss, Judge Ballou-Watts decreased Holly’s sentence from life without parole to four more years in prison and a chance for resentencing. The Baltimore County Public Defender’s office isn’t dropping the trial, though, as the victim’s family revealed after the sentencing that they have forgiven Holly and see no reason for him to remain incarcerated. The Public Defender’s office hopes to continue to work with Reiss to convince the judge to further decrease Holly’s sentence.
“So right now we have this window, right? And because this is new information that the victim’s family has forgiven Aaron and doesn’t want him incarcerated for another four years,” said Reiss. “Everything this young man has done has been positive in a really negative environment … and, like I said, there are other Aarons. There are jails that are just filled with these poor kids who had, like, terrible childhoods and just unspeakable things, violence. I did it because I saw an opportunity to do something that had never been done before … I’m all in on this.”
The defense hopes to schedule another hearing with Judge Ballou-Watts within the next month.