Georgia to Execute Former Sailor on Murder Charges

Georgia State Prison (file image)

By Reuters 2016-02-17 20:55:34

Georgia on Wednesday plans to execute a former U.S. Navy sailor convicted of killing a crewmate and, with the help of another sailor, dismembering the body and burying it.

Travis Hittson, 45, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. EST at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson in what would be the nation's second execution this week and the seventh of the year.

He received the death penalty for the April 1992 murder of 20-year-old Conway Utterbeck during a weekend leave from the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal.

Hittson shot Utterbeck following a night of drinking while on a trip to central Georgia to visit the parents of a third sailor on the ship, Edward Vollmer, according to court records.

“I had no emotion or nothing on my face, I know I didn’t," Hittson later told police in his confession to the killing, according to court records.

He shot Utterbeck point blank in the forehead, then went out to eat at a nearby Waffle House. Afterwards, Hittson and Vollmer dismembered his body, using a kitchen steak knife and a hacksaw, according to court records.

They buried Utterbeck's torso in a shallow grave in the woods. The men put his severed hands, head, and feet in the trunk of Vollmer’s car and returned to the ship based in Pensacola, Florida on Monday morning.

After getting off work that day, they discarded his remaining body parts in the Florida Panhandle, records said.

Hittson's lawyers unsuccessfully appealed to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence to life without parole, calling the murder "an extreme aberration from the life he had lived before and since."

Vollmer had "orchestrated this crime and manipulated Mr. Hittson into believing his life was in danger," the petition argued.

The state board denied his request late Tuesday.

Vollmer told Hittson that Utterbeck was plotting to kill the two of them, according to court records. But there was no evidence that Utterbeck intended to harm them. Hittson later described Vollmer as "very paranoid."

Vollmer made a plea deal with prosecutors, was sentenced to life in prison and could be eligible for parole, the clemency petition said.

Four jurors who voted to sentence Hittson to death have written to the parole board urging life without parole, a sentence not available during his 1993 trial, the petition said.