Eve Price has a hard time believing a man she always knew as loving and caring, could have beaten her infant son to death in August 2009.
Price testified in Clayton County Superior Court Monday morning on behalf of Howard "Joe" Holloman, Jr.
Holloman, 31, of Griffin, was convicted earlier this month of beating to death Price's 7-month-old son, Nathaniel Price. He was sentenced Monday to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 30 years.
Price described the defendant as her boyfriend, and said Holloman was the only father her three children knew. "He didn't have to love my kids, but he did, and he was there for them," said Price through, sometimes, tearful testimony. "He was never unkind, or violent. I would never have allowed someone like that around my children. They are my life."
Under cross-examination, Chief Assistant District Attorney Erman Tanjuatco accused Price of changing her testimony during the week-long trial to benefit Holloman, and of witnessing the baby's injury. She denied both accusations.
Holloman's mother, Sharon Williams, also testified for her son, telling Judge Matthew Simmons that her son adores children.
"Everybody loves him, he's a good guy," she said. "I am proud to be his mother. If I had to do it all over again, I'd want the same child. He's a wonderful son, and wonderful person and his kids love him. If you got to know him, you'd think the same thing."
Holloman's sister, Moecha Holloman, took the stand to defend her brother, too.
"He's innocent and I never thought I'd have a family member going through something like this, for something they didn't do," she said. "The things that are being said about him are not true. He will see victory."
Moecha Holloman said her brother would never cause another to suffer because their family has seen its own share of tragedy. Their father was murdered years ago, and their mother's sister was shot dead on the Monroe County Courthouse steps, as she tried to get a restraining order against a boyfriend. The same aunt's 5-month-old son died under mysterious circumstances, and another cousin died young.
"He would never have put another family through what we went through," she said.
Prosecutors said Holloman was baby-sitting Nathaniel, waiting on Eve Price to return home to take the infant to the doctor for a lingering illness, when he hit the child about his head and body. An autopsy showed the child suffered a ruptured heart and macerated liver, and injuries to his mouth. In arguing for a stiff sentence, Tanjuatco pointed out that the infant spent more time in his mother's womb than he did outside of it.
"He'll never have the opportunity for someone to come into court and speak for his life," he said. "He has no family members, so it is up to the state to ask for justice for him."
When the hearing ended, Price said Nathaniel's father never met him and was not interested in being a parent. Holloman's interest in her family appealed to her. "We were just friends at first," said Price. "But I had a high-risk pregnancy and was on bed rest. I didn't have money to pay the light bill or to buy food. He pawned his father's chain, and paid my bill and bought food for my kids. He was always there for us. He used to leave diapers on my doorstep and bring pizza to my kids."
Holloman plans to appeal his conviction and seek a new trial. His family and girlfriend are hopeful justice will prevail for him. They believe Nathaniel likely died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and his injuries were from the attempts at CPR.
"I know the district attorney's job is to seek the truth," said Holloman. "But they got it wrong this time."