Nicholas "Nick" Sutton was sentenced to death for the 1985 slaying of Carl Estep at Morgan County Correctional Facility. File Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Corrections
Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday denied clemency to death row inmate Nicholas "Nick" Sutton one day before his scheduled execution.
Sutton, 58, is scheduled to die by electric chair Thursday evening for the 1985 murder of Carl Estep.
"After careful consideration of Nicholas Sutton's request for clemency and a thorough review of the case, I am upholding the sentence of the state of Tennessee and will not be intervening," Lee said in a statement released Wednesday morning.
Kevin Sharp, Sutton's attorney, described his client's petition as "a once-in-a-lifetime case for clemency."
"He has saved the lives of three corrections officials during his incarceration; his request for clemency was supported by seven former and current Tennessee correction professionals, family members of victims, five of the original jurors and others," Sharp, a former district court judge, said.
He said the defense team plans to "seek every available avenue of possible relief for Mr. Sutton."
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.
Sutton has chosen to die by electric chair at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute.
His attorneys filed his clemency petition Jan. 14.
The document includes 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 support 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.
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.