Former Navy sailor Travis Clinton Hittson was put to death by lethal injection Wednesday night at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, 24 years after he and a chief petty officer murdered their shipmate and dismembered the body.
Hittson, 45, accepted a final prayer and recorded a final statement, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections. When the warden asked him in the execution chamber whether he had anything more to say, Hittson responded, “No, sir, I’m all right.”
The end seemed to come quickly. Less than 5 minutes after the warden left the room, signaling the beginning of the execution process, there was no apparent movement of Hittson’s chest as he took his final breath.
Time of death was 8:14 p.m.
His mother was one of the witnesses. Pat Hittson watched her son die from the second row of the execution chamber, then was enveloped in hugs by friends, family and supporters when she got to the area where her daughter and about 75 others waited for news of Hittson’s death.
Earlier Wednesday, 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 usual, 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 Wednesday evening, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Wednesday afternoon that Hittson’s request lacked merit, and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Hittson’s plea late Tuesday.
There are at least three more men who could see their execution dates set soon. Last year Georgia executed a woman and four men, the most in a year since the state electrocuted five men in 1987.
‘Depravity Of Mind’
Though Hittson and another shipmate murdered sailor Conway Utterbeck in 1992, only Hittson was condemned to death.
Edward Vollmer, who at the time was Hittson’s supervisor on the aircraft carrier the USS Forrestal, pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. Vollmer has already been denied parole three times — in 1999, last year and on Wednesday — and the Parole Board said it will review his case again in 2024.
As for Hittson, the Houston County jury that heard the almost unspeakable details of the crime said the murder of Utterbeck was “outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhumane in that it involved depravity of mind.”
Hittson’s lawyers had tried to win him a reprieve by arguing to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles that Hittson’s childhood, marked by abuse and neglect, was at the root of his strong desire to please. The lawyers wrote in a clemency petition that Hittson participated in Utterbeck’s murder only because he wanted to make Vollmer happy.
Hittson’s lawyers wrote that he was “remorseful and would never have committed this terrible crime absent the deliberate manipulation of his co-defendant and Naval superior, Edward Vollmer.”
The Parole Board rejected Hittson’s plea for clemency without comment Tuesday night.
‘What Did I Ever Do To You?’
While Hittson, Vollmer and Utterbeck were based in Pensacola, Fla., where the USS Forrestal was docked, they had come to Middle Georgia in April 1992 to stay at the Houston County home of Vollmer’s parents, who were out of town that weekend.
Hittson and Vollmer went out drinking on their second night in Georgia while Utterbeck remained behind. Hours later as they drove home from the bar, Vollmer began arguing that Utterbeck planned to kill them both and they needed to “get him” first, according to testimony.
Vollmer was ready for an assault on Utterbeck with a bulletproof vest, a sawed-off shotgun and a handgun he had in his car. He gave Hittson an aluminum baseball bat.
Utterbeck was asleep in a recliner when Hittson struck the first blow to his head with the bat. After a few more hits, Hittson dragged Utterbeck to the kitchen where Vollmer waited with a .22-caliber pistol. “What did I ever do to you?” Utterbeck asked Hittson seconds before he was shot in the head.
Loggers Discover Torso
It was Vollmer’s idea to dismember Utterbeck in hopes of making it hard to identify the body, according to testimony.
They buried Utterbeck’s torso in Houston County and brought the rest of his body parts to Pensacola, where they tossed them into several dumpsters as they drove home after reporting for duty on the morning of April 6, 1992.
Loggers discovered Utterbeck’s torso on June 15, 1992, and eventually the link was made to the missing sailor.
Hittson eventually confessed, told investigators of Vollmer’s role, and showed them where they left Utterbeck’s remains.