A man convicted of killing a northeast Iowa police officer nearly 65 years ago who later saw his death sentence commuted to life in prison died this week, Iowa corrections officials said Thursday.
Warren John Nutter, 84, was the state's longest-serving inmate, Iowa Department of Corrections spokesman Nick Crawford said. He died Wednesday in a hospice room of the Iowa State Penitentiary, where he had been housed due to chronic illness.
Nutter was 18 when he was sent to prison after pleading guilty to killing 52-year-old Independence police officer Harold Pearce in January 1956.
A 2017 Des Moines Register story recounted that Pearce was questioning Nutter and four other teens at a sheriff's office about a gas station robbery when Nutter asked to use the restroom. Officials said he then climbed out an open window, retrieved a shotgun from a car outside and shot Pearce when the officer tried to stop the group from leaving. Nutter was captured 3½ miles away.
Nutter's lawyers had argued he grew up in a broken home in Illinois and was 14 when he was sent to juvenile detention for theft and forgery. He was on parole when he shot Pearce.
He was sentenced on Feb. 10, 1956, to hang, and became a household name in Iowa. Nutter was the second-youngest Iowan scheduled to hang, and death penalty opponents seized on his case and drew national attention to it.
The Register described Nutter as a “string-bean type with green eyes and a pleasant smile” with a tattoo of an old girlfriend’s name, "Lynn," on his right arm and a “death’s head tattoo” on his right. He bragged about reading 200 books in the previous year and of offering to give blood for those who needed transfusions. He said he wished for his whole life to live over.
In 1957, Gov. Herschel Loveless commuted his death sentence and said “the final judgment rests with a much higher authority than myself.”
It would be more than six decades before Pearce's daughter Barbara told her story to the Register in 2017. She has since died.
Des Moines Register reporter Chris Higgins contributed to this article.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa crime: Warren John Nutter, Iowa's longest-serving inmate, dies