Tennessee executes man for 1985 prison slaying

Feb. 19 (UPI) — Tennessee executed Nicholas “Nick” Sutton on Thursday evening for the 1985 slaying of a fellow prison inmate, corrections officials said.

He was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m., the Tennessee Department of Corrections said.

The execution came less than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Sutton’s request for a stay of execution.

His lawyers sought the stay after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee denied a clemency request Wednesday.

Court documents indicated Sutton sought the reprieve based on the grounds that the jury in his case saw him “shackled in heavy chains” during his capital murder trial. The petition said this violated the Constitution’s Fifth, Eighth and 14th amendments.

Sutton, sentenced to death for killing a fellow prisoner in 1985, chose to die by electric chair at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute.

The Tennessee Department of Corrections said he chose fried pork chops, mashed potatoes with gravy, peach pie and ice cream for his last meal.

Though Sutton was convicted of killing three people in 1979, including his grandmother, his death sentence came for the murder of Estep at Morgan County Correctional Facility. That’s where Sutton was serving prison time for his earlier convictions when he stabbed Estep 38 times.

His clemency petition included affidavits by multiple corrections officials, including former Lt. Tony Eden, who said Sutton protected him during a riot in 1985 in Tennessee State Prison. Eden said Sutton confronted a group of five inmates who attempted to take him hostage.

“I firmly believe that the inmates who tried to take me hostage intended to seriously harm, if not kill me. Nick risked his safety and well-being in order to save me from possible death. I owe my life to Nick Sutton,” Eden said.

Suttons’ victims’ families also supported clemency, including Estep’s oldest daughter, Rosemary Hall, who said his execution would worsen the suffering her family has endured since her father’s death.

“It breaks my heart that Mr. Sutton has lost so much of his life on death row for killing my father,” Hall said in an affidavit.

At the time of Estep’s murder, Sutton was serving time for killing his 58-year-old grandmother. After he was convicted of her murder, he also confessed to killing a friend from high school, John Large, 19, and a Knoxville, Tenn., man named Charles Almon, 46. He said he beat Large to death in August 1979 and then shot Almon two months later.

After Lee’s decision not to intervene, Sutton’s clemency lawyer, former U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp, said the defense team planned to “seek every available avenue of possible relief for Mr. Sutton.”

Sutton’s scheduled execution comes amid a recent resumption of executions in Tennessee. The state Supreme Court halted all executions in 2015 after legal challenges by death row inmates.

States began using midazolam to replace pentobarbital in their lethal injection protocols after European makers of the latter drug halted sales to the United States for use in executions. Critics of midazolam’s use in lethal injections question its effectiveness, blaming it for prolonged and apparently painful executions, including that of Dennis McGuire in Ohio and Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma.

Tennessee resumed executions in 2018 with that of Billy Ray Irick for the 1985 death of Paula Dyer. State law requires lethal injection for all crimes committed after Dec. 31, 1998, while those before that date can select electrocution.

Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol uses three drugs: midazolam, a sedative; vecuronium bromide, a paralytic; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

If his death sentence is carried out Thursday, Sutton will be the fourth person executed in the United States in 2020 and first in Tennessee.

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