Nicholas Sutton Dead, Tennessee Inmate Who Saved Guard During Riot Executed Despite Judge’s Clemency Plea

The exterior of a prison.
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Death row inmate Nicholas Sutton was executed this week, despite pleas from prison staff and a former federal judge to spare the life of the prisoner credited with saving the lives of prison guards while behind bars.

As the Equal Justice Initiative noted, the 58-year-old convicted murderer was killed by electrocution after Tennessee Governor Bill Lee denied a clemency application that had the support of correctional staff members and even some family of Sutton’s victims. Kevin Sharp, a former federal district court judge, wrote the clemency application and noted that Sutton had a reputation as a kind and honest man who risked his own life to save prison guards.

The organization noted that Sutton endured a horrific childhood, abandoned by his mother as an infant and raised by a mentally ill father who “beat him mercilessly.” One of these beatings resulted in a broken arm for Nicholas, and other childhood injuries left him with permanent brain damage. By the age of 12, Sutton became addicted to drugs after doing them with his father.

At the age of 18, Sutton was convicted of murdering his paternal grandmother in Tennessee and two men in North Carolina. Inside a dangerous Tennessee prison after being sentenced to life in prison, he killed another inmate after being attacked with a lead pipe. After a co-defendant refused to accept a guilty plea, Sutton’s own plea bargain was pulled and he was sentenced to death.

While in prison, Sutton was credited with saving the lives of three correctional staff members while behind bars, including protecting a guard from five prisoners trying to take him hostage during a 1985 riot. That guard was part of the clemency petition that ultimately failed, saying he believed Sutton should not have the death penalty.

“If Nick Sutton was released tomorrow, I would welcome him into my home and invite him to be my neighbor,” the guard wrote. “It is my opinion that Nick Sutton, more than anyone else on Tennessee’s Death Row, deserves to live.”

Reverend Matthew Lewis, who grew close to Sutton while serving as a ministry in the prison, told WTVF that in their final conversation before his execution, Nicholas wanted to thank those who had supported him and the clemency bid.

Lewis also relayed a message that Sutton had left for his wife of 25 years.

“Girl, we ran till the wheels ran off. We didn’t quite make it. We just ran out of road,” the message read.