Death Penalty

Tennessee Executes Nick Sutton, Despite Protests from Prison Guards and the Victims' Families

"Nick Sutton has gone from a life-taker to a life-saver," read a clemency petition filed by corrections staff, the families of several victims, and five of the jurors who sentenced him to death.


Tennessee has executed Nicholas Todd Sutton, a man who guards once described as living proof "of the possibility of rehabilitation and the power of redemption."

Sutton was convicted of four murders committed when he was in his late teens and early twenties. His victims were Dorothy Sutton (his paternal grandmother), Charles Almon, John Large, and a fellow prisoner, Carl Estep. Despite this history, seven correctional officers and personnel, the families of three of his victims, and five jurors who sentenced him to death filed a clemency petition asking Gov. Bill Lee to commute his sentence to life in prison.

"Nick Sutton has gone from a life-taker to a life-saver," the petition declared. Sutton stepped in to save the lives of at least five people while behind bars, including the life of a guard who was confronted by armed inmates during a prison riot.

The governor announced on Wednesday that he would not intervene in the execution. Sutton was electrocuted to death on Thursday night. For his final meal, Sutton had fried pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, and peach pie with vanilla ice cream.

Reactions to the execution were mixed. Though the families of Dorothy Sutton, Charles Almon, and Carl Estep supported Sutton's clemency petition, the sister of John Large made a statement supporting his execution.

"John was denied the opportunity to live a full life with a family of his own," wrote Amy Large Cook. "My children were denied meeting a wonderful man who would have spoiled them rotten and loved them with all his heart. He suffered a terrible and horrific death. And for that, I will never forgive Mr. Sutton."

"Nick Sutton has been a positive influence in prison, and his guards wanted him alive because he made them safer," said Abraham Bonowitz of Death Penalty Action. "What is happening tonight is immoral and counterproductive."

Sutton's own final statement reads as follows:

I have made a lot of friends along the way and a lot of people have enriched my life. They have reached out to me and pulled me up and I am grateful for that. I have had the privilege of being married to the finest woman, who is a great servant to God. Without her, I would not have made the progress that I have made. I hope I do a much better job in the next life than I did in this one. If I could leave one thing with all of you, it is, don't ever give up on the ability of Jesus Christ to fix someone or a problem. He can fix anything. Don't ever underestimate His ability. He has made my life meaningful and fruitful through my relationships with family and friends. So, even in my death, I am coming out a winner. God has provided it all to me.

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  1. Of all the stupid hills to die on, crying about the execution of a guy who admits to murdering four people is certainly near the top. Fuck this guy. I am sure his victims were nice people to. He got what was coming to him.

    1. Who’s dying on this hill and who’s crying about it? What’s wrong with pointing out that someone is currently doing good things and that his community (a prison) would be better off with him alive than dead? Even the guards said that he was making their own jobs easier. Isn’t that a good reason to keep him around? Do you want prison guards to be less safe? What good is done by killing a man who is no longer a threat to anyone?

      Of all the hills to die on, crying about calls for this guy’s clemency certainly near the top.

      1. What good is done? We’re no longer paying to keep a murderer alive, that’s pretty good in my book. 40 years of that was plenty.

        And those prison guards are paid for their work, if they find it too dangerous they’re free to pursue different employment.

        1. So why don’t we just kill everyone in prison? Then we don’t have to pay to keep any of them alive.

          1. Are all crimes equal in your book?

            I’m not willing to say we need to execute someone for stealing a car for instance, paying the owner back and some time in jail would suffice.

            Depriving 4 other people of life though? This guy needed 20 cents of lead between the eyes 40 years ago, that we kept him around as long as we did showed a great deal of compassion.

            1. He was sentenced to life in prison for killing his grandmother (1st degree murder) and two other people in what was probably a drug deal gone bad (2nd degree murder).

              He was sentenced to death for killing a child rapist inmate in prison. The two other people sentenced in that killing didn’t get death penalty – one has since been released and the other is serving life

              1. And if he had been executed in a timely manner after he killed the first 3 people, the 4th might still be alive. The leniency he was showed after his first 3 murders resulted in a 4th murder. The 4th murder was of a child rapist, so I’m not really too broken up that that guy is gone, but it’s still a murder.

                How many murders should one be allowed before the death penalty happens? Are we in a Sub Club situation here, do 9 murders and the 10th is free?

                1. Of course. He should have been executed because everyone sentenced to life in prison should simply be executed instead. And hell – why not everyone sentenced to 20 years? Or 10 years? Or time served? See I can play that game too.

                  1. What good is life in prison with no parole? What objective does that accomplish?

                    If we’ve determined he’s too dangerous to ever even consider releasing him, why keep him alive for the next 40 years? We’re not pretending we’re rehabilitating him or we’d give him a chance at getting out.

                    And where have I advocated for executing people who will get out of jail eventually?

                    1. What good is life without parole?

                      1. He has a chance to still do some good, as it appears this guy did. People in prison can actually be productive, even within those strict limits. There is often work they can do. They can publish books. They can improve themselves and inspire others.

                      2. Life gives a chance for exculpatory evidence to come forth, resulting in release. Not for this guy maybe, but you can’t know, a priori, who might have been railroaded into prison by bad cops or bad prosecutors and who is definitely guilty.

                      3. Compassion, as you already mentioned.

                    2. some guy….your compassion for a convicted murderer is touching.

                      Justice was done.

                  2. You also refused to answer my question: How many murders before you execute someone? Don’t hem and haw, a number will suffice.

                    1. There is no magic number. Humans shouldn’t be executed by computer algorithm or lottery.

                      Executive clemency EXISTS because it has been viewed (since before the medieval era) as a necessary way to review the decisions of a judicial branch that is often (properly) hidebound by rules and procedures.

                      I say below – I don’t actually know the particulars enough in this case to know whether clemency should have been granted in this case. I do know that Tennessee is on a bit of a blood binge – 7 executed in the last 18 months since they resumed it. So I’m sure it’s great politics. But the fact remains that of the 139 TNeans executed since 1916 – he is the first executed for killing an inmate. And that is the only murder he was executed for.

                    2. 1 is enough. Then hang the SOB right there on the courthouse lawn.

              2. “He had a chance to do some good”? Yeah, his chance to do that was before he murdered four people. That’s how normal people do it.

    2. Yeah, this isn’t the case to use an example if you don’t like the death penalty.

      In cases where there is any doubt whatsoever, I agree that you need to wait. If there’s even a shred of doubt as to whether the guy is guilty or not you shouldn’t execute them. In cases like this where there’s no doubt that he killed 4 people? My only problem is how long it took to get to the execution.

      1. Did it always take this long?

      2. Yeah, this isn’t the case to use an example if you don’t like the death penalty.

        That sort of sentiment would suggest that it is actually the best example to use if you oppose the death penalty.

        What is the purpose of our criminal justice system? Is it retribution? Restitution? Or are we just meaning to segregate dangerous individuals from the rest of society? If you’re not taking a hyper pragmatic view of criminal prosecution and subsequent penalties, then you’re applying emotion to the process, which means it will always be flawed, prejudicial and arbitrary no matter what. An inconsistent justice system is no justice at all. This man was either a threat to his local community or he was not. End of story. No other criteria is valid. Otherwise you’re asking the state, which is inherently an immoral institution, to make value judgments.

    3. He also saved the lives of three corrections officers. If you are so desperate to ensure that executions remain simple enough for you to handle as a pure black-and-white based on your emotions and your politics – well that is YOUR problem.

      Personally, I don’t really have enough information from that clemency petition to judge whether it should have been granted or not. But that TN governor’s statement was appallingly dismissive of his own job responsibility as Governor. Which obviously makes for good politics for people like you

      1. Just as an aside – he wasn’t sentenced to death for the crimes he committed before he went to prison as a teen. His sentence was changed to death because he killed an inmate and was already in prison on one 1st degree murder charge (his grandmother).

      2. “He also saved the lives of three corrections officers.”
        That’s a good enough reason to execute him.

  2. Better 40 years late than never. Good riddance.

  3. I am opposed to capital punishment and this article is a good example of why. Criminal sentences should be based on an equal application of the law in court, with all the due process that entails. Factor such as the wishes of the victims families, jurors having a change of mind years later, or how well they are liked by prison guards should have no influence. It exactly this type of situation that leads to massive disparities in the criminal justice system. I hate to say it, but I am glad that the rule of law won out.

    1. There aren’t massive disparities in the criminal justice system.

      Don’t hand out with criminals and commit crimes and your odds of winding up in prison are close to zero.

      Don’t murder people and your odds of being executed are about zero.

  4. Yeah, he killed 4 people, but he’s really a nice guy.

    Please. Executions need to be faster and public. Convict, sentence, one appeal within 24 hours, then frogmarched to the city square and shot in the back of the head.

    1. Public executions? Is that a joke? You should move to the Middle East- they’re justice seems more in line with your views.

  5. “The libertarian case for murdering your own grandmother” by Reason.

    This place has become an intellectual garbage dump almost indistinguishable from Vox. “When murdering your own grandmother should be mostly forgiven: Ezra Klein explains ten reasons why.”

    1. I wasn’t aware keeping someone in prison for 40 years was equivalent to forgiving them.

      1. Mostly forgiven. He was only mostly forgiven.

    2. Ah yes. Life in prison = mostly forgiven. Of course.

      I thought there would be more Christians among all you conservatives…

      1. I know I know, for you fake libertarians at Matt Welch’s Reason, the only people in the world who deserve to have their lives involuntarily terminated prematurely are fetuses that haven’t quite left the womb and “every single conservative writer”.

        1. What does this have to do with anything that we’re talking about in this thread? I know it’s easier for you to argue with the voices in your head than with a real person, but you need to share exactly what those voices are saying if you want me to join in.

          1. You are arguing with voices in your head.

            You started sounding off about Christians for no particular reason except your own bigotry.

            1. You ever notice that the only time the leftists bring up Christianity, other than to attack it, is for bullshit statements like his?

        2. I feel like you don’t know what a joke is, and that’s a shame.

          1. He wasn’t making a joke.

    3. Complains that Reason is an intellectual garbage dump.

      Chooses the alias “Weigel’s Cock Ring.”

  6. don’t ever give up on the ability of Jesus Christ to fix someone or a problem. He can fix anything. Don’t ever underestimate His ability.

    He no help with curveball.

  7. He made his bed as they say.

    1. And the US ‘justice’ system then gave him a long time to straighten out and fly right. Which he eventually did. Good for him. He should be thankful for that extra time that his victims never got.

      Today was the day to settle up.

      1. Settle up with whom? Vengeance should not be the goal of a justice system. Restitution, compensation and security should be. Killing this guy served none of those goals.

        1. Restitution?

          How many of his victims did he bring back to life?

          I used to think that vengeance shouldn’t be one of the goals. The usual consequentialist arguments that criminal justice “should be” about preventing crime, and not vengeance.

          But why? Why “should” that desire for vengeance be entirely thwarted? What are the *consequences* of *not* getting vengeance?

          First, less deterrent. But let’s ignore that, because that goes back to the already accepted premise that preventing future crimes is a legitimate goal of a criminal justice system.

          Second, no vengeance, no sense that *justice* was meted out. Less satisfaction with the criminal justice system, less buy in, less willingness to leave justice to the criminal justice system.

          *Vengeance* is entirely libertarian. The victims are *owed* *commensurate* compensation for the taking. Eye for an eye is perfectly libertarian.

          1. Eye for an eye at the hands of the state is not at all libertarian. Remove the state and we can have a discussion, but as long as the state is the arbiter, justice is a fiction.

        2. Never said anything about vengeance. If you want to argue with strawmen in your head that’s fine, just leave me out of it.

          He was sentenced to receive punished for his crime. Today was that day.

  8. don’t ever give up on the ability of Jesus Christ to fix someone or a problem. He can fix anything. Don’t ever underestimate His ability. He has made my life meaningful and fruitful through my relationships with family and friends.

    He also did that to billions of other people who did not waste four of his fellow humans.

  9. I was surprised to learn there is still at least one state that does electrocutions rather than injection.

  10. Maybe it’s the Catholic brainwashing, but I will always believe in the possibility of redemption.

    1. Clearly you are soft on crime. You need to read more from the Old Testament. That will fix you right up.

      1. Like a Jew? Pass. They killed my savior.

        1. As Saint Ian of Tull wrote in Hymn 43:

          If Jesus saves
          Then he better save himself

          1. Kinda the whole point of Easter Sunday. You know, the conquest of death and the harrowing of hell bits.
            Ian of Tull may want to go back to his monastic cell and bone up on basic theology.

            1. Songs from the Wood is great and all, but I wouldn’t take theological instruction from the guy.

    2. The multiple murderer may have been redeemed. We can’t know. But we can pray for him.

      The DP is the best way to promote redemption. It concentrates the mind of the criminal.

    3. Maybe it’s the Catholic brainwashing, but I will always believe in the possibility of redemption.

      He’s already having that conversation with his Maker.

  11. The three people he killed didn’t get any time back because they were good. They didn’t get any time back at all–because he took it.

    And I’m really glad he killed that child-rapist. If he hadn’t we’d be seeing Reason writing articles about how the rapist had gotten so good in prison, too.

    Two pieces of human garbage gone.

  12. Never give the state the power of execution.

    1. It is impossible for a state not to have it.

      The ability and willingness to kill is necessary for the defense of innocent life.

      1. There are only 14 countries in the world with the death penalty.

        We are right up there with such enlightened entities as China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

        Never trust the government this much.

      2. It is impossible for a state not to have it.

        It’s a false choice. You either give the state the ability to kill people, the ability to imprison them for life, or you get a lot fucking meaner as a surviving member of society.

    2. No society can ever be truly civilized without a well thought out death penalty.

    3. The state cannot exist if it is unable to rape, steal and murder with impunity. Its more existence is an affront to liberty. But then again, minarchists, lefties and conservatives just need to put their guys in charge? Amirite?

    4. Never give the state the power of execution.

      In the US, we don’t. That would be dangerous. There are no summary death sentences in our criminal system. No capital bench trials. Only a jury can choose the death penalty.

      People desperately choose to ignore that fact to make the ‘Never give the state the power of execution’ argument.

  13. I’m not a strong advocate of the death penalty, except in cases of heinous brutality, multiple murders, or when a child is involved and there’s no question to guilt. But once voted for by a jury, that’s a fixed sentence, and I’m not willing to second guess an old verdict because some he did some good or because a few jurors have been softened by time and distance.

    I’m glad for the guy that he got his life straight, found some redemption, and contributed value. But there are times when you simply can’t undo a wrong, and murder is the ultimate example. You could save 50 lives, but it will still never undo the one life taken.

    That said, I have a hard time with a death penalty for murdering a child rapist. I know all the arguments, and yet I’m particularly pleased that the man that he killed is one that his victim(s) will never have to consider a threat or have to deal with the fact that he’s still breathing. Hopefully

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  16. Everybody is remorseful after they’re caught. Nice to see he turned a corner and made some good with his remaining time, that still does not change his past or having to pay for his crimes…

  17. Not a capital punishment supporter, for reasons of unequal treatment, misconduct, and the basic stupidity of the justice system

    This is a guy who I have little remorse for, he did it, earned the penalty

    It is a case that shows why there is a commutation power, and one might think it showed cause
    Apparently not, I will lose no sleep over it

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  19. If anything conviction for a crime committed in prison should be the least credible. Prisons are violent places full of violent people. Who are your possible witnesses here? What might be mitigating circumstances? Who might benefit from getting both of them out of the way? Sounds like this guy was working with the guards. Well there you have a motive for setting him up.

  20. He has not redeemed himself for the same reason that Count Rugen can not redeem himself.

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    All that I have and more. Please…

    Inigo Montoya:
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    Count Rugen:
    Any thing you want.

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    I want my father back, you son of bitch.

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  23. “If I could leave one thing with all of you, it is, don’t ever give up on the ability of Jesus Christ to fix someone or a problem. He can fix anything. Don’t ever underestimate His ability.”

    Well then why didn’t you get him to bring back to life all the people you KILLED? Oh that’s right he gave you freedom of actions and you used those gifts to KILL other people. THEN and only after you are in a cage you suddenly find God?

    If anyone killed my family member I’d want to kill them myself and I don’t care what anyone says. If it is cut and dry who killed who justice should be carried out ASAP not 20 + years later. Save the money and get a rope its recyclable for all these pieces of shit murders.

    Don’t get me wrong if there is ANY chance of someone being wrongfully accused of murder they should only get life. But if there is video and 10 people all saying YEP he did it, IMO when the guilty verdict is read they should be executed within the next hour. Next!

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