HITTSON v. THE STATE.
Supreme Court of Georgia.
Decided October 31, 1994.
Reconsideration Denied December 1, 1994.
Stephen N. Hollomon, Williams, Sammons & Sammons, Walter G. Sammons, Jr., for appellant.
Edward D. Lukemire, District Attorney, Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General, Susan V. Boleyn, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Paige M. Reese, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.
Travis Clinton Hittson was convicted of the malice murder of Conway Utterbeck, as well as counts of aggravated assault, theft by taking and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. The jury found that the murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind, OCGA § 17-10-30 (b) (7), and recommended that Hittson be sentenced to death. The trial court sentenced Hittson to death for the murder and to terms of years for the remaining convictions.
On April 3, 1992 Hittson, his co-defendant Edward Vollmer, and the victim, Conway Utterbeck, left Pensacola, Florida, where they were stationed on the U. S.S. Forrestal, and they drove to the home of Vollmer's parents in Warner Robins, Georgia. The elder Vollmers were out of town, and the three men spent the first night in a shed on the property. They obtained a key to the house from a family friend the following day. According to statements Hittson subsequently made to law enforcement officers, on the second day of the trip he and Vollmer went to several bars, leaving the victim at the Vollmers' home. As they drove back to the house, Vollmer stated that the victim planned to kill them, and they should "get" him first. Vollmer gave Hittson an aluminum baseball bat and the two entered the house to find the victim dozing. Hittson stated that, at Vollmer's direction, he struck the victim several times in the head with the baseball bat, then dragged him into the kitchen where Vollmer waited. According to Hittson, the victim screamed, "Travis, whatever have I did to you?" While Vollmer stepped on the victim's hand, Hittson shot him in the head. Hittson stated that he was "cold" and "had no emotion" when he shot the victim.
According to Hittson's statement, approximately two hours later Vollmer stated that they needed to dismember the body in order to get rid of the evidence. Hittson stated that they used a hacksaw to remove the victim's hands, head and feet, but that he became sick after he removed a hand, and Vollmer completed the dismemberment. Hittson stated that Vollmer acted alone in removing the victim's genitals and carving out his rectum. Vollmer and Hittson then packed the victim's remains in numerous garbage bags. They buried the victim's torso in Houston County, cleaned up the Vollmers' home, and hid the baseball bat in the Vollmers' shed. Subsequently they drove back to Pensacola where they buried the rest of the victim's remains.
On April 5, 1992, Louise Davidson observed a black Thunderbird with Florida license plates emerging from a seldom used dirt road in Houston County. Two people were in the car. Suspicions were aroused, and she noted the license number. When the victim's torso was discovered two months later by loggers in an area off the same dirt road, police determined that the car previously observed by Davidson belonged to Edward Vollmer.
Relying on information that the victim had gone to Warner Robins just before his disappearance, the Navy contacted the Houston County Sheriff's Department. Representatives of the Sheriff's Department travelled to Pensacola, Florida, and, along with agents from the Naval Investigative Service (NIS), interviewed a number of the victim's shipmates, including Hittson. Hittson subsequently confessed and gave information leading to the discovery of the rest of the victim's remains.
At Hittson's trial the medical examiner testified that, in his opinion, the victim died from a single gunshot wound to the head, but that it was not possible to determine whether the dismemberment occurred before or after death.