NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee executed death row inmate Nicholas Todd Sutton in the electric chair Thursday night, marking the fifth time the state has used the method since 2018.
Sutton, 58, was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m. CST, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction. Media witnesses said Sutton looked forward with a solemn expression in the moments before he died.
Sutton thanked his wife and his family "for their love and support as they tried so very hard to save my life."
“I’m just grateful to be a servant of God, and I’m looking forward to being in his presence,” Sutton said. "And I thank you.
He was the 139th person put to death in Tennessee since 1916, and the seventh inmate executed since the state resumed capital punishment in August 2018.
Sutton was convicted of killing four people, including his grandmother Dorothy Sutton, his high school friend John Large and Charles Almon. He was sentenced to death for his involvement in the fatal stabbing of fellow inmate Carl Estep in 1985.
Large's sister Amy Large Cook expressed relief that “at least that chapter will be over” in a statement read by a Department of Correction official.
"John was denied the opportunity to live a full life with a family of his own," Cook said. "He suffered a terrible and horrific death, and for that I will never forgive Mr. Sutton."
Tennessee was originally set to execute Sutton in 2015. Legal delays blocked that date.
Sutton's attorneys hoped the courts or Gov. Bill Lee would intervene this time. They pointed to problems with the trial that put him on death row and to his remarkable transformation in prison, where correction officers said he had saved multiple lives.
Lee declined Sutton's clemency application earlier this week. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for a stay minutes before he was put to death.
Sutton was 18 years old when he embarked on the killing spree that shocked his east Tennessee community.
Investigators learned to recognize what they called the "Sutton signature" – bodies wrapped in plastic, bound in chains and weighted with cinder blocks.
He killed Large, his childhood friend, and Almon, a Knoxville contractor. And then he targeted his grandmother, who adopted him after a childhood of abuse, neglect and addiction.
Sutton knocked her unconscious with a piece of firewood, wrapped her in a blanket and trash bags, chained her to a cinder block and threw her alive into the Nolichucky River in Hamblen County. She drowned in the icy waters, an autopsy found.
Sutton eventually led authorities to Large's body after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in his grandmother's death and sentenced him to life in prison. He'd killed Large, 19, on a trip to Mount Sterling, North Carolina, and buried his body in a shallow grave on property that belonged to Sutton's aunt.
In October 1979, he shot Almon and dumped his body in a North Carolina quarry. Searchers found that corpse only after spending thousands of dollars searching in other spots as Sutton shifted his story.
Less than five years into his prison term, Sutton helped stab Carl Isaac Estep, a convicted child rapist from Knoxville, more than three dozen times Jan. 5, 1985, at Morgan County Regional Correctional Facility.
That was when a jury sentenced Sutton to death.
Sutton did not dispute his role in four killings, but his lawyers said a history of altruism behind bars and other mitigating factors showed he deserved mercy.
Inadequate trial representation had blunted Sutton's opportunities to avoid the death penalty, they said. They added "pervasive childhood trauma" had warped his brain.
His father "was a violent, abusive and unstable man who suffered from severe mental illness, struggled with substance abuse and was repeatedly institutionalized," the application read.
Sutton started taking illicit drugs with his father by 12, his lawyers wrote, beginning a lifelong addiction.
Sutton's lawyers said he had "gone from a life-taker to a life-saver" after becoming sober in prison.
His clemency application cited accounts from three prison officers who said Sutton stepped in to save their lives when he didn't have to, twice stepping between staff and angry inmates to diffuse potentially lethal conflicts.
This article originally appeared on The Tennessean: Tennessee execution: Nicholas Todd Sutton executed by electric chair