Stopping the Execution of a Redneck.
“Do you like to hunt or fish?” That was the first question that Gary Wayne Sutton ever asked me. I can still hear the rolling contours of that strong East Tennessee accent. As quick as he asked the question, I responded, “Actually Gary, I’m a vegetarian.” The slight pause seemed to betray the underlying question, “How in the hell is this going to work?” Sensing the awkwardness, I asked, “Well what else do you like?” Gary thought for a second and said, “Beer, boats and cars.” Trying to make an opening, I said, “Oh, the BBC…like the news in Britain.” Immediately, it was beyond clear that he had no idea what in the hell I was talking about it. Thankfully, it only took a few more tries to get the conversation going. Once we started, we haven’t stopped. When I asked him the other day if he would consider himself a redneck, he said, “Hell yeah!” Such a response left me with no doubt…he owns it…Gary Wayne Sutton is a bona fide redneck.
Despite there being no direct evidence and many problems with the prosecution’s efforts to secure a conviction, Gary Wayne Sutton has sat for nearly thirty years on death row for the Blount County, Tennessee murder of his close friend, Tommy Griffin.
The prosecution’s theories about the case were bolstered by their key witness…disgraced medical examiner, Dr. Charles Harlan…who in 2005 lost his medical license for bogus scientific conclusions. In multiple cases, Dr. Harlan went out of his way to make his testimony fit the state’s theories. In this case, the murder had to have happened in a specific window of time to make it fit where Sutton was. Even though the body seemed to indicate a different timeline and other medical experts disagreed, Dr. Harlan made sure his conclusions fit. What’s more, it was revealed that Dr. Harlan never even examined the body himself. The bizarre facts around Dr. Harlan should be enough to stop the execution alone.
Additionally, the prosecution suppressed evidence of possible alternative suspects, including that Sutton’s codefendant and uncle…James Dellinger…might have acted alone (and killed Connie Branam as well). Since Gary Wayne Sutton’s childhood, Dellinger had been a destructive influence on him and was known to be incredibly violent. Most who knew them both said that Delllinger was a much more likely suspect that Gary. There was also more evidence linking Dellinger to the crime. Dellinger died last year on death row. While I can’t say for sure about Dellinger, the murder certainly doesn’t fit the Gary that I have come to know, a kind generous restless spirit.
These conclusions all come together to beg the question, “How did this all come about?” The answer to me is simple, Gary Wayne Sutton was a poor uneducated redneck thrown into a criminal justice system that he knew nothing about. In this instance, being a redneck was not all that different than a whole host of other identities…it made you an easy target of an out-of-control prosecution. If Gary Wayne Sutton wasn’t a redneck, I have no doubt that he would have never been convicted…and he certainly wouldn’t have received the death penalty. Love of hunting, fishing, beer, boats and cars combined with poverty and ignorance shouldn’t make you a prime candidate for execution.