Georgia parole board denies clemency to Travis Hittson

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied clemency to Travis Hittson, who is scheduled to be executed Wednesday for killing a fellow Navy sailor.

The board’s decision, announced Tuesday, rejected pleas for mercy from Hittson’s legal

Death-row inmate Travis Hittson Georgia Department of Corrections photo

team. In a clemency petition, the lawyers said Hittson is extremely remorseful for what he did, has had an exemplary prison record and was manipulated to commit the murder by a co-defendant who may one day be paroled.

The murder occurred April 3, 1992, in Warner Robins. According to court records, Hittson’s lead petty officer, Edward Vollmer, told Hittson to kill fellow sailor Conway Utterbeck on the pretense that Utterbeck was planning to kill them.

After Hittson hit Utterbeck on the head with a baseball bat, Vollmer handed Hittson a handgun and told him to shoot Utterbeck. Hittson then fired a fatal shot into Utterbeck’s forehead, and he and Vollmer cut up Utterbeck’s body and buried buried the remains in different places.

The clemency petition says Vollmer exercised "unnatural dominance and control" over Hittson and manipulated him into killing Utterbeck.

Separately, Hittson’s lawyers will appeal a state court judge’s decision, denying a request to throw out Hittson’s death sentence. But a Butts County judge denied that request and Hittson’s lawyers are expected to appeal that decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.

“Mr. Hittson was robbed of a fair and reliable sentencing trial when the prosecutor was permitted to sandbag the defense with the testimony of a state psychologist, Dr. Robert Storms, who revealed off-the-cuff but nevertheless callous statements allegedly made by Mr. Hittson about the victim, during a pre-trial evaluation,” the petition said.

During the trial, the trial judge had said he would not let Storms take the stand unless Hittson’s lawyers presented psychiatric mitigation evidence during the sentencing phase of the trial, the petition said. Even though Hittson’s defense team did not present such evidence, the judge let Storms testify anyway, the petition said.

For this reason, Hittson’s defense team “was utterly disarmed by the prosecution’s tactic, abetted by the trial court’s disregard of both governing law and its own assurances,” the petition said.

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About the Author

Bill Rankin
Bill Rankin
Bill Rankin covers criminal justice, the death penalty and legal affairs. He also hosts the AJC’s “Breakdown” podcast.