Generally, I'm pretty okay with lending my cars to people, though I know many gear heads who aren't. Even so, I don't think I've ever heard a better argument against lending your car than the story of Ryan Holle, who loaned his car to his roommate and found himself doing a life sentence as a result.
Of course, it's not just the act of loaning the car that got the now 31-year old Holle in trouble. Holle had lent his Chevy Metro to his roommate many, many times before, with no issues. Hell, I even bet the roommate occasionally put some gas in the car. On the morning of March 10, 2003, though, everything changed.
Holle had been drinking and partying the night before, and when his roommate asked to use the car, the hungover Holle just said "use the car." According to a New York Times interview, Holle
...honestly thought they were going to get food.
They, of course, weren't getting food. The roommate used Holle's car to drop three men off at the home of a local pot dealer, where they proceeded to steal a safe full of money and marijuana. Unfortunately, in the process of the robbery, one of the men used a shotgun to bludgeon to death the dealer's 18-year old daughter.
While all this miserable shit was going down, Holle was a mile and a half away, asleep in his bed. He had no idea what was happening. At some point when he lent his car to his roommate, the roommate did mention their plan in some context, but Holle thought he was joking.
Soon, the roommate and the other perpetrators of the robbery and murder were caught, and eventually all were sentenced to life in prison. Thanks to a law on the books in their state of Florida and all states except for Michigan, Kentucky, and Hawaii, the Felony Murder Rule, Ryan was arrested as well for his role in loaning his roommate the car.
This rule has been abolished in many countries precisely because of outcomes like this: Ryan Holle was sentenced to life in prison as well, because it was his car used for the crime. By loaning his roommate the car, he was considered to have had an active role in the crime, even though he claims not to have been aware of what his roommate's intent was and was nowhere near the actual scene of the crime itself.
Ryan turned down a plea-bargain agreement that would have given him a 10-year sentence, because he felt so confident (if a little naive) about the outcome of a court case. All he did was loan his car and go to sleep — how could he be convicted?
The prosecution was adamant that the crime would not have happened had it not been for the use of Holle's car. It's not clear how things would have been different, say, if the roommate simply took the car without asking, or flat-out stole the car. Taking the car under false or at best inconclusive pretenses hardly seems different.
Of course, prosecutors had a very different story to tell. They claimed that Holle did, in fact, know exactly what the car was going to be used for — a robbery — though, since the murder was not pre-meditated, he could not have known that it would have been used for a murder, even if he did know the car was to be used for a crime.
The prosecutor, David Rimmer, said of the case
"No car, no consequences. No car, no murder."
Which is, at least, technically true. There was also testimony that some of the details of the crime were told to Holle, including that they may have to "knock out" the drug dealer's daughter. So there is some possibility that Holle knew more about the intended use of the car than he claims, though it's really hard to say exactly.
Holle was very recently denied clemency, and is still serving his sentence. As someone who has both loaned cars to roommates and had roommates with parts of their lives I knew nothing about, Holle's story sounds highly plausible to me, and the fact that this man is serving life in prison for, essentially, tossing his keys to someone and then going to sleep, seems wildly unjust.
The murder was, of course, awful. Holle's role in the murder seems pretty tenuous at best, and if you're arguing that he was part of the murder, you may as well implicate the mother, who was the drug dealer that predicated the dangerous situation, the builder of the house that was the location of the event, and the city for building the roads that led to the scene of the murder.
It seems like a pretty raw deal. Holle has a site with petitions to seek pardon and more information about the felony murder rule.
So, if you're someone nice enough to lend your car, maybe be sure to make sure you really know your roommate or brother or whoever you're about to toss those keys to.