Georgia executes ex-Navy sailor for 1992 murder of shipmate

Georgia executes ex-Navy sailor for 1992 murder of shipmate

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Ben Gray
Friends comfort Pat Hittson, center, after she witnessed the execution of her son, Travis Clinton Hittson, on February 17, 2016 at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. Ben Gray /

Georgia has executed former Navy sailor Travis Clinton Hittson for the gruesome 1992 murder of a fellow shipmate.

Hittson, 45, was put to death by lethal injection at 8:14 p.m.

He accepted a final prayer and recorded a final statement, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.

On his final day of life, Hittson met with two relatives, four friends and eight members of his legal team.

For his last meal, he ate the same dinner as his fellow inmates: meat loaf and gravy, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, red beans, cornbread, bread pudding, and an orange beverage.

Hittson was scheduled to die at 7 p.m. but, as is usually the case, there were delays while the state waited for all the courts to decide whether the execution should be stopped.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution this evening, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled this afternoon that Hittson’s request lacked merit, and on Tuesday the State Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Hittson’s plea that his sentence be commuted to life without parole.

A Houston County jury condemned Hittson to die for the April 5, 1992, murder of Conway Utterbeck.

According to court records, Hittson’s lead petty officer, Edward Vollmer, told Hittson to kill Utterbeck, 20, on the pretense that Utterbeck was planning to kill them.

All three men were sailors that spring aboard the USS Forrestal, an aircraft carrier based in Pensacola, Fla. On the weekend of the murder, Vollmer invited Hittson and Utterbeck to come with him to his parents’ home in Georgia. Vollmer’s parents were out of town.

Hittson and Vollmer spent that Saturday night at area bars while Utterbeck stayed behind at Vollmer’s parents’ house. As they drove home from their night of drinking, Vollmer argued that shipmate Utterbeck was going to kill them both and they needed to “get him” first.

Once at his parents’ house, Vollmer put on a bullet-proof vest he had in his car and retrieved a handgun and a sawed-off shotgun for himself, according to court records. He gave Hittson an aluminum bat.

Hittson hit Utterbeck in the head several times before dragging him to the kitchen where Vollmer waited with a .22-caliber handgun. Hittson shot Utterbeck in the head as he begged for his life.

Hittson and Vollmer later dismembered Utterbeck’s body. They buried Utterbeck’s torso in Houston County and took the remaining body parts to Pensacola. The two men tossed the body parts into several dumpsters after they had reported for duty the morning of April 6, 1992.

Vollmer pleaded guilty to avoid trial and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. He has already been denied parole three times — in 1999, last year and today — and the Parole Board has said it will review his case again in 2024.

According to Hittson, who confessed to the crime but demanded a trial, the murder was Vollmer’s idea.

Hittson is the second person Georgia has executed in two weeks. Brandon Astor Jones, 72, died by lethal injection in the wee hours of Feb. 3 for a 1979 Cobb County murder. There are at least three men who have run out of regular appeals and could see execution dates set soon.

AJC staff writer Bill Rankin and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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