Georgia set to execute former Navy sailor later this month
Feb. 02, 2016
ATLANTA (AP) — A former Navy crewman convicted of killing a fellow sailor in Georgia is scheduled to be executed later this month, state corrections officials said Tuesday.
Travis Hittson, 45, will be put to death by injection of pentobarbital at 7 p.m. Feb. 17, Department of Corrections Commissioner Homer Bryson said in a news release. On Monday, Houston Judicial Circuit Chief Judge George F. Nunn Jr. had set an execution window beginning at noon Feb. 17 and ending at noon Feb. 24.
Hittson was convicted in February 1993 of malice murder in the death of Conway Utterbeck.
Hittson was a 21-year-old Navy crewman stationed in Pensacola, Florida, in April 1992 when he and Utterbeck went with a third sailor, Edward Vollmer, to Vollmer's parents' home in Warner Robins for a weekend, according to court filings.
Prosecutors have said Hittson told investigators that the second night they were there, he and Vollmer went to several bars while Utterbeck remained at the house. As they drove back to the house, Vollmer said Utterbeck planned to kill them and they should "get" him first, prosecutors have said.
Vollmer put on a bulletproof vest, gave Hittson an aluminum baseball bat, and entered the home, where Utterbeck was sleeping, according to court filings. On Vollmer's instructions, Hittson hit Utterbeck several times in the head with the bat and then dragged him into the kitchen where Vollmer was waiting, according to prosecutors.
Hittson told investigators that Utterbeck screamed, "Travis, whatever have I did to you?" according to court filings. Vollmer stepped on Utterbeck's hands and Hittson shot him in the head, prosecutors have said.
About two hours later, Vollmer said they needed to cut up Utterbeck's body to get rid of the evidence, prosecutors said. Hittson told investigators they used a hacksaw to cut off Utterbeck's hands, head and feet but that he became sick after removing a hand and Vollmer finished dismembering the body, according to prosecutors.
The two then packed Utterbeck's remains in garbage bags and buried his torso in Houston county, prosecutors said. They then cleaned up Vollmer's parents' home, hid the baseball bat in the shed and drove back to Pensacola, where they buried the rest of Utterbeck's remains, prosecutors said.
A woman saw a black Ford Thunderbird with Florida license plates leaving a little-used dirt road in Houston County and noted the tag number because it seemed suspicious to her. When loggers found Utterbeck's torso in June 1992, police determined the car the woman had seen belonged to Vollmer.
Investigators questioned a number of Utterbeck's fellow sailors. When Hittson was questioned, he gave a statement that implicated him and Vollmer and then told investigators where Utterbeck's body parts were buried. He and Vollmer were arrested.
Hittson's attorneys have argued in the past that their client was emotionally and physically mistreated as a child, had limited intelligence and severe alcohol problems. He isn't the one who cut up Utterbeck's body and he passively followed directions given by Vollmer, who masterminded the killing and excelled at manipulating people, Hittson's attorneys have said.
Hittson was convicted of malice murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and theft by taking. He was sentenced to death for the malice murder conviction.
Vollmer reached a plea deal and is serving a life sentence. He was denied parole in 1999 and again last year. Reconsideration of his case is set for 2020, parole board spokesman Steve Hayes said in an email.