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Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

Holton case one of too many tragic memories

Posted Monday, September 10, 2007, at 10:37 PM

The impending electrocution of Daryl Keith Holton is yet another in a long series of crimes that will stay with me forever.

While I was officially listed as sports editor of the Times-Gazette from September of 1965 until my retirement in December, 1998, I also covered the police beat.

From 1966 until my retirement I also took crime scene photographs for city and county law enforcement. That was an unpaid 24/7 job.

Shortly before I retired, while talking with a top law enforcement official, we figured up the number of murder scenes where I had taken the photographs to be used in court. The figure came well over 100 homicides.

The Holton case was one of the last, and certainly the worst, of those cases. Four innocent children. If the execution goes through as scheduled might we not look at this entire situation as a few minutes when Daryl made a tragic decision that claimed the lives of four children and almost 10 years later that figure rose to five lives.

Many have and will continue to put their own spin on what caused him to commit such a heinous crime. My first thought is only Daryl can answer that question and I'm by no means sure even he can explain it.

He walked into police headquarters and admitted his guilt. Almost immediately thereafter he told investigators he was guilty, there was no reason to have a trial and said "go ahead and execute me."

While many may believe that request should have been carried out immediately, the justice system, love it or hate it, just doesn't work that way. While many of us may make such statements in the heat of the moment, would we really want it that way?

During hearings before Holton went to trial he often expressed his opinion there was no reason to have a trial and at one point remarked, "The State of Tennessee doesn't have the decency to go ahead and execute me."

Daryl essentially represented himself with court-appointed attorneys to more or less assist him. He was no help to them at all. A jury selection expert came in here and he ignored her advice. In fact, he ended up with a jury almost certain to convict him.

He showed no emotion throughout his trial, including when the jury first found him guilty and shortly thereafter came back after the punishment phase with the death penalty.

As near as I could determine his only request was that he die by electrocution rather than lethal injection. He's only a few hours away from getting his wish.

When I mentioned earlier taking pictures of well over 100 homicide scenes, I wasn't making light or the Holton case of any other case.

Those who have known of my involvement in the photographs at such scenes have often asked me questions about how this has affected me. Listed below are a few examples:

Doesn't it bother you to take such gruesome pictures? Yes, but I've always been able to put those feelings aside until the job is done correctly. I'm not ashamed to admit a few times it was hard to focus the camera through tears. It really got to me when I was in the darkroom, all alone with no prying eyes to see the scenes, and saw it all again.

Isn't it unusual for a newsman to take crime scene pictures for law enforcement? Yes, it is unusual, but it seemed almost as if I wasn't working for the Times-Gazette but rather for the people of Shelbyville and Bedford County at the time. No one was immediately available or had the equipment to do it when this all started. This was on film, before photography went almost entirely digital.

Do you like to see your pictures being shown to the jury during murder trials? I wish there had never been a reason for me to take the first picture. Of course I've watched the reactions of the juries. Some trials have gone as I anticipated. Sometimes our laws have managed to keep some of the basics from the jury until those trials practically resembled a bad third grade play.

Those things being pointed out I can only say I tried my very best to do what was right for the victim or victims and their families.

From all the way back to 1966 some of those scenes undoubtedly have become a little hazy, but they all remain with me and certainly have changed my life in a way I wish had never happened.

Speaking of 1966, in a few days I'm going to mention one of those crime scenes, a conviction and the person responsible who has served a long prison sentence. Believe me when I say the law-abiding citizens of Shelbyville and Bedford County are going to be upset with what is very likely to happen in less than two years.

Showing most recent comments first
[Show in chronological order instead]

If indeed there is a hell I am sure Mr Holton is there with all four of the children looking down on him.

-- Posted by Dianatn on Sun, Sep 16, 2007, at 1:54 PM

Goodbye Mr. Holton. I hope there are two little girls looking down on you drinking ice water as the flames cause you never ending anguish...

-- Posted by rebel4ever37 on Sun, Sep 16, 2007, at 1:36 PM

samb, yes it would seem to be a necessity, but the prison officials reported that Holton was not sedated.

I have not heard that Holton decided for an autopsy, but I do know from reading the story in the Tennessean that the body was examined by the ME's office and they found second degree burns where the saline soaked sponges contact the body, which they say is normal from execution by electrocution.

Further sometimes those executed in the electric chair have broken bones from the body going tense when hit by the current, but Holton had no broken bones.

Revolution, while I do agree that Holton did murder those children in a gruesome fashion, if I remember correctly it was reported that it seemed he tryed to keep them from knowing what was going to happen and he did try to do it as quickly as possible without causing the children pain or fear...I don't know if that is fact or not, but either way I must disagree that Holton should have suffered a crueler death. The death penalty is all about justice and not cruelty....he has paid the debt that the judge and jury imposed and he will face a much greater judgement than any imposed here on this earth.

As for who will be claiming the body or if there are any services I have not seen or heard anything about that. Perhaps the T-G will have something soon.


-- Posted by HorseGentler on Thu, Sep 13, 2007, at 6:58 PM

As cordell asked above, does anyone know where he is to be buried?

It is my understanding that he decided FOR an autopsy at the last minute, so I assume the body went to the Medical Examiners ofc.(?)

-- Posted by mmp84 on Thu, Sep 13, 2007, at 4:31 PM

William, you would think it would almost be a necessity.

-- Posted by sambntn on Thu, Sep 13, 2007, at 2:23 PM

It's my understanding that those being executed are allowed a sedative in the days before execution.


-- Posted by HorseGentler on Thu, Sep 13, 2007, at 1:21 PM


According to the spokesperson for the prison, he had hyperventilated and the warden had to give him time to calm down. And even if he was drugged I really wouldn't care. He was gonna die so if he got one more free "high" from the state before doing so, I couldn't care less.

-- Posted by sambntn on Thu, Sep 13, 2007, at 12:57 PM

I think it's incredibly sad that we have to have the death penalty, but Daryl Holton murdered 4 little kids. And the law is that if you step over the line of human decency the death penalty is an option, and he certainly fits that criteria.

-- Posted by stolen25 on Thu, Sep 13, 2007, at 11:12 AM

I have been reading the TG blogs for a while and really never wanted to comment much. When I read people attacking this Mother it really made me mad, so I began asking some questions around town. I did not know either of these parents but from the way I understand this from several people here who did know them. She was neglecting her children and was a drug user but still did that give Mr Holton the right to kill the children? I do not think that even though the mother may not have been the best mother she didn't deserve to have her children killed. There are a lot of bad mothers and fathers out there who do not take care of their children.

I also heard they were going to do a drug test on Holton's body because some are saying he was drugged. Has anyone heard anything about this?

-- Posted by Dreamer on Thu, Sep 13, 2007, at 10:04 AM

I had an Uncle working for the Bedford County Jail when Daryl was brought in. I was only 17 at the time, but remember very clearly my Uncle stating that by talking to Daryl "you would have never even guessed" he could do something so evil. If you think the kids are being abused call child protective services, don't kill em!

-- Posted by sambntn on Thu, Sep 13, 2007, at 9:37 AM

Does anyone know who took charge of Holton's body and where he is to be buried?

-- Posted by cordell on Thu, Sep 13, 2007, at 6:04 AM

I can't even begin to understand what he was thinking and I'm thankful for that. Actually if I had to guess I would say, even though Holton denied it, that at first he wanted to get back at his ex wife, but then after he had done the deal he realized what a terrible thing he had done, not only to them or her, but to himself.

As far as the punishment being too good for him, well I do think he would have suffered more if he would have had to live out the rest of his life in prison, with nothing to do, but think about his actions... I can't remember where, but it seems I recall his ex-wife saying that she preferred him not being executed and having to live with the pain and suffering as she does.

However her statement read by the victims advocate after the execution seems to hint that she received some closure and peace with his execution.


-- Posted by HorseGentler on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 11:08 PM

Even though I firmly believe in the death penalty Don't you think it is sometimes too good for them? I know that may sound silly, but if a person does something as horrible as this and they are immediately killed for this crime..there is no time for them to dwell on their actions. Don't you think he ever wondered .."How his children would have grown or what they would have done in life", had he not taken that from them? Surely, he felt he had taken so much from them or he wouldn't have wanted to die himself. Do you think he wanted to die because of the pain he knew he would have to live with, or was it because he was guilty and wanted to pay the price?

-- Posted by Dianatn on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 10:57 PM

Holton may have had his reasons for doing what he did, but it is certainly no excuse. Things he saw at war and the resulting psychiatric problems, his feelings concerning his ex-wife and condition of his children may well have drove him over the edge, but that still in no way makes it right or easier to understand.

As far as what happens now that he has been executed, well I am not even going to go there, as I or no human is fit to judge.



-- Posted by HorseGentler on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 10:49 PM

Daryl Holton took responsibility for his flawed reasoning and actions on that tragic night in November 1997, even to the point of asking from the very beginning for his execution that was carried out early Wednesday morning.

Did other events in his life. some of which he had no control over, set the stage for this tragedy? Can assuming the role of Snow White after he was electrocuted erase those events?

-- Posted by bomelson on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 10:41 PM

LOL yep, it was a little rough to say the least. But Back in the day, it was the place to be ..LOL

-- Posted by Dianatn on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 10:17 PM

Yep, I remember getting hit right between the eyes with a beer bottle the 1st and last time I stepped foot into Green Acres shortly before it was no more...certainly wasn't the place to be for me.


-- Posted by HorseGentler on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 10:15 PM

Oh yes, Honeyland was still around when I was in High School. I loved that place. Remember "Green Acres"

-- Posted by Dianatn on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 10:12 PM

Sorry for the OT comment, but how about "Honeyland", remember that one Diana?


-- Posted by HorseGentler on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 10:03 PM

Oh My, memories: I remember "The Bridle" restaurant also. Gosh I feel old now.

-- Posted by Dianatn on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 9:36 PM

Don Hancock is dead he died of cancer a few years ago.. he suffered quite a bit from it.. I really didn't remember the murder of the THP but when his name was mentioned I did know him..but only after he was released from prison. He was bed ridden..I knew he had been in prison but didn't know why.

I remember the Seibers and Ray girls also even though I was very young.

-- Posted by Dianatn on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 9:25 PM

I remember the THP trooper. I was a small boy, but my parents managed "The Bridle" restaurant. Lt. Gibbs would come in and I would sit and visit with him.

As I remember a man named Donald Hancock had committed a robbery at the old 41-A drive in and then was holed up in a house (no longer there) near the intersection of Deery & Madison St. Somehow Hancock got Gibbs gun and shot him. Hancock was released from prison after serving around 20 years or so...he was dying with cancer and they released him and I think he has since died. It's been a long time since I heard anyone mention that murder, but I think I'm pretty close on the details.

I also remember the Seibers & Ray murders, but I cannot remember who was prosecuted or the outcome...I'm sure Bo will let us know. What I do remember is that the neighborhood I lived in was near Deery Eakin school and all of us kids used to play outside up & down the street until after dark, but after the murders all the parents started sitting on the front porches and watch over us or made us come in after dark. I also remember "Shubvul" (as the natives used to say) being known as "Little Chicago.

For the size of this town it seems there has always more murders than other towns comparable in size or maybe it just seems that way to me.

Either way I'm still glad that I grew up here and I moved away for 10 years and returned so I guess I'll always call Shelbyville home.


-- Posted by HorseGentler on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 8:27 PM

Disgusted, as I remember it was a young man in his 20's, but can't remember his name. Since I was fairly young, I don't remember trial details, but remember the fear that it could happen here. I do remember the girls' names: Seibers and Ray. They were first cousins around 8 or 9 years old. As Bo has posted, he can update us with details.

I also remember 1966 being a very violent year with several murders, one being a THP trooper. We used to joke as kids of the nickname for Shelbyville as "little Chicago". I'm sure Bo could give us many statistics for the year.

-- Posted by cfder on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 5:50 PM

I suppose the best answer I can give you Disgusted is to say the person who committed this crime was partially prosecuted since there were two victims and only stood trial for one of them. As soon as I can gather a couple of official facts I'll update the situation

-- Posted by bomelson on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 3:02 PM


Who committed this crime? Were they prosecuted?

-- Posted by Disgusted on Wed, Sep 12, 2007, at 9:14 AM

You are correct CFDER. I want to get all my facts correct before I put this in my blog.

I'm having problems getting some information I think I have verified by prison officials.

Are, or must, bureaucrats be a necessary evil?

-- Posted by bomelson on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 10:38 PM


I'm sure I know the crime of 1966 you will mention, for I was a child of 11, going to Shelbyville Mills school at that time. In December, one week before Christmas, I remember going to school and finding out about the two young girls that had been murdered at the city dump on Sims Road. I was going to school with several of their siblings and cousins and still know some of their horror they found out that day. This struck fear in our hearts since I only lived about a mile from the murder site. It's bad to be a young child and learning to live with some fear as this, but as we have learned since, it has become a very common thing.

-- Posted by cfder on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 5:57 PM


-- Posted by jssg1975 on Tue, Sep 11, 2007, at 9:46 AM

It is ashamed to say, 10 years of taxpayer dollars have spent KEEPING HIM HEALTHY, AND VIABLE. I for one do not necessarily believe in the death penalty, but those kid's didn't deserve that horrible treatment either.

It wasn't his right to decide that they'd be "better off dead" than living in grave conditions..

I am at a loss for his dispicable crimes against humanity and our tax payer dollars shouldn't be used to keep a murder in custody. We have got to come up with a happy medium of dealing with these people.

I feel so badly for the family's involved, especially a mother, among many other's who lost innocent children to a very irate and dangerous man, and for BEYOND UNJUSTIFIABLE reasons. Of course he is guilty be reason of insanity, any person who can commit murder on young, innocent kids, can not be sane, but that doesn't mean he should get off easy and we should have to literally pay for the rest of his life in prison either. :(

AND... what in the world is happening in two years? Is someone getting out of prison?

-- Posted by nascarfanatic on Mon, Sep 10, 2007, at 10:42 PM

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Bo Melson is a retired sports and police beat editor of the Times-Gazette. He passed away November 15, 2014, at age 81.
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