- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency Tuesday for a Georgia inmate set to be executed this week despite his lawyers’ arguments that he has shown great remorse and was manipulated into killing a fellow Navy sailor.

Travis Hittson, 45, is set to receive an injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Jackson. He was convicted in February 1993 of malice murder in the slaying of Conway Utterbeck when the two were Navy crewmen stationed in Pensacola, Florida.

“The community of men who served alongside both Mr. Hittson and Conway Utterbeck in the Navy believe that Travis Hittson is deserving of mercy, as do others, including jurors who were charged with determining Mr. Hittson’s punishment,” his lawyers wrote in a clemency application.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only entity in Georgia authorized to commute a death sentence, held a closed-door clemency hearing Tuesday. The board voted to deny clemency but, as is its custom, did not give a reason for its denial.

Hittson had a rough childhood and developed a drinking problem early on, his lawyers wrote. He was a kind person but had trouble fitting in and constantly sought to win the approval of others, they added.

Edward Vollmer, Hittson’s direct supervisor in the Navy, was known to be violent and manipulative, and he preyed upon Hittson’s need to please, the lawyers argued. Vollmer talked often of murder and how to dispose of a body and had previously threatened Utterbeck’s life, the clemency application said.

“Mr. Hittson’s lower rank, gullibility, alcoholism and desperation for approval made him peculiarly vulnerable to Edward Vollmer who, by all accounts, exercised an unnatural dominance and control over Mr. Hittson,” the clemency application said.

The three men went to Vollmer’s parents’ home in Warner Robins for a weekend in April 1992. Hittson and Vollmer went out drinking the second night, and on the way home Vollmer told Hittson that Utterbeck planned to kill them and that they needed to “get him” first, according to court filings.

On Vollmer’s instructions, Hittson hit Utterbeck several times in the head with a bat and dragged him into the kitchen and shot him, according to court filings. Hittson told investigators they used a hacksaw to cut off Utterbeck’s hands, head and feet, according to court filings.

They buried Utterbeck’s torso in central Georgia’s Houston County and the rest of his remains in Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle.

Their crewmates were shocked at Hittson’s confession to investigators about two months later, but no one was surprised Vollmer had been involved, according to some fellow crewmen quoted in the clemency application.

Several people who served as jurors at Hittson’s trial later told his lawyers they would have sentenced him to life without parole had that been an option at the time. Hittson has expressed great remorse for the killing and has lived an exemplary life in prison, reading religious texts and steering clear of trouble even when provoked, the clemency application said.

Vollmer, on the other hand, has never expressed remorse or taken responsibility for his actions, Hittson’s lawyers argued. Vollmer reached a plea deal and is serving a life sentence. He was denied parole in 1999 and again last year.

A lawyer for Hittson also argued in a court filing Monday that his client’s constitutional rights were violated during sentencing when a judge allowed a state psychologist who had examined Hittson to recount damaging statements Hittson had made about Utterbeck. Prior rejection by courts of those claims and the level of harm they caused Hittson was an error, his lawyer wrote.

State lawyers argued in response that those arguments have previously been raised and rejected by the courts and are procedurally barred.

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