After Vollmer and Hittson went out drinking that Saturday night, Vollmer gave Hittson a baseball bat and told him to go inside and hit Utterbeck to incapacitate him. Hittson found Utterbeck asleep on a recliner and struck him repeatedly on the head.
Vollmer then handed a pistol to Hittson and told him to shoot Utterbeck. Hittson did as instructed and fatally shot Utterbeck in the forehead, court records say. Hittson and Vollmer later cut up Utterbeck’s body and buried the remains in different places.
The clemency petition says Vollmer exercised “unnatural dominance and control” over Hittson and manipulated him into killing Utterbeck.
It also cited numerous members of the Navy who knew all three men at the time and who said they opposed Hittson being executed for what he did.
“Neither Mr. Hittson nor those who wish to speak on his behalf have shut their eyes to his guilt,” the petition said. “Mr. Hittson committed an appalling act; an act which took the life of Conway Utterbeck and harmed his family in profound and irreparable ways.
“Those who know Mr. Hittson, however – even law enforcement personnel who knew him only long enough to hear him confess and assist in the investigation of this crime – are united in their conviction that he is remorseful and would never have committed this terrible crime absent the deliberate manipulation of his codefendant and naval superior, Edward Vollmer.”
The clemency petition said Hittson was a kind, awkward and naive young man who was always trying to please others and had a terrible drinking problem. And once Vollmer became Hittson’s superior, he began to manipulate him.
“Mr. Hittson’s lower rank, gullibility, alcoholism and desperation for approval made him peculiarly vulnerable to Edward Vollmer who, by all accounts, exercised an unnatural dominance and control over Mr. Hittson,” the filing said.
Vollmer was allowed to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
“This disparity in punishment is troubling and profoundly unfair,” the petition said, “given the overwhelming agreement … that Mr. Hittson would never have committed an act like this if he had not met Edward Vollmer.”
Separately, Hittson’s lawyers are now appealing to the Georgia Supreme Court a state court judge’s ruling on Tuesday that denied a request to order a new sentencing trial for Hittson.
The last time the state parole board commuted a death row inmate’s sentence was in July 2014. In that decision, the board spared Tommy Lee Waldrip, who was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of Keith Evans, a college student who was about to testify against Waldrip’s son in an armed robbery case.