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Man On Death Row Saved Prison Guards’ Lives

Nicholas Stutton | Image: CBSNews

In 1981, Nicholas Sutton was convicted of killing three people. The murders were committed in 1979 when he was 18 years old. He was handed down three life sentences, including one for drowning his own grandmother.

Six years later, Sutton was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing a fellow inmate, a child rapist. His lawyers claim it was a “kill or be killed situation” after another inmate allegedly attacked him.

In spite of his fear-inspiring life-taking history, some people saw him as a lifesaver.

Sutton was credited with saving the lives of multiple correction officers, according to the clemency application his defence lawyer Kevin Sharp sent to the governor of the State of Tennessee, Bill Lee in January 2020.

According to the letter, five Tennesseans, including three prison staff members, owe their lives to Sutton.

One of those officers, Tony Eden, said Sutton saved his life during a prison riot in 1985.

“A group of five inmates, armed with knives and other weapons, surrounded me and attempted to take me hostage. Nick and another inmate confronted them, physically removed me from the situation and escorted me to the safety of the trap gate in another building,” Eden, a retired corrections official said in the clemency application. “I owe my life to Nick Sutton.”

Cheryl Donaldson, former manager of a prison where Sutton was housed, said that in 1994 she slipped and fell while carrying her keys and radio and that she struck her head hard on the floor. No other staff members saw her fall or were in a position to come to her aid. She maintained that many inmates would have taken advantage of her at this time, and even assaulted her or caused a security breach:

“Nick, however, did exactly the opposite. He sprang into action, helped me to my feet, retrieved my keys and radio, and alerted staff to come to my assistance,” she said.

Sheriff’s Deputy Howard Ferrell, who is now deceased, previously testified that in 1979 Nicholas Sutton stepped in to stop another inmate from attacking him from behind while Deputy Ferrell attempted to break up a serious fight between two inmates.

Deputy Ferrell was acting as a jailer in the Hamblen County Jail at the time and was surrounded by up to 60 inmates as he tried to separate them. Sutton grabbed an inmate who was about to strike Deputy Ferrell from behind with the head of a push broom. Sutton tackled the inmate just as he was about to land a blow to the back of Deputy Ferrell’s head. He then pinned the inmate to the ground until other deputies could arrive and secure the scene.

The letter further maintained that Nicholas also cared for fellow inmates who faced severe and debilitating health problems. The mother of an exonerated death row inmate Paul House, describes Nicholas Sutton as her son’s “saving grace” while his health rapidly deteriorated after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while incarcerated. Paul was denied access to a wheelchair or walker while on death row and was forced to crawl on the floor on his hands and knees. He was left to shower sitting on the bathroom floor. Sutton refused to allow his friend to “live his life like that” and began carrying Paul around the prison.

Unfortunately, Governor Bill Lee on Wednesday denied Sutton’s clemency bid and the United States Supreme Court on Thursday denied Sutton’s attorney’s application for a stay of execution.

At 7:26 p.m, Thursday night, Nicholas Sutton was pronounced dead as per a news release from the Tennessee Department of Correction. He was the fifth person to die by electric chair in Tennessee since November 2018.

In his final statement, Sutton thanked his wife and God.

“I hope I do a much better job in the next life than I did in this one,” he said. “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.”

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Nicholas Sutton
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