10 Years Later, Inlet Killer Makes Bid For Hearing

SNOW HILL – Over 10 years after beating a man to death with a tent spike near the set-up for Sunfest at the Inlet parking lot in 1999, it appears convicted killer Robert Sutton, Jr., sentenced to life in prison for the crime, might be attempting another shot at redemption.

Nearly six years have passed since the last significant activity in the case, but it now appears Sutton might be making a renewed bid for post-conviction relief. In a letter addressed to the Clerk of the Circuit Court last week, the convicted killer is seeking a timetable for a possible attempt at another hearing in the case.

“Could you please write back to me and give me an exact date that I must file my post-conviction petition by to be within the deadline of the 10-year rule?,” reads Sutton’s letter to Clerk of Circuit Court Stephen Hales, who this week forwarded the request to the Office of the Public Defender’s Collateral Review Division, which will ultimately make a determination about the timetable.

Around 6:30 a.m. on April 30, 1999, the body of Thomas Lynch was discovered in the Inlet parking lot near the large tents that had been erected for the upcoming Springfest celebration that year. Also discovered near the body that morning was a large, metal tent stake, which appeared to be covered with blood. The trail of evidence eventually led to Sutton, who killed Lynch in a botched robbery attempt after a sordid night of drinking and other illicit activity.

Sutton was eventually charged with first-degree murder in the death of Lynch and a Worcester County Circuit Court jury convicted him after a wild trial during which Sutton abruptly dismissed his public defender and proceeded as his own counsel at the close of the state’s case against the advice of the court. Sutton was ultimately sentenced to life in prison, but he later challenged the conviction in the state Court of Special Appeals.

Sutton’s appeal was based on questions related to the handling of his original trial, not the least of which was his contention the Circuit Court erred by allowing him to waive his right to counsel and represent himself in the proceedings. Sutton also challenged the lower court conviction because he was not allowed to call certain witnesses. He also challenged the conviction because he believed the jury was biased by the admission into evidence his prior, unrelated convictions, which he believed influenced the jury against him, among other things.

In June 2001, the Court of Special Appeals upheld the Circuit Court’s conviction, ruling against the Sutton on the half a dozen or so points upon which he based his appeal Nonetheless, Sutton was successful in his petition for post conviction relief, citing the same perceived problems with his original trial he presented to the Court of Special Appeals. In April 2004, a post-conviction relief hearing was held in Worcester County Circuit Court with Sutton again representing himself in the proceeding, despite the fact it was one of the very problems with his original trial on which he based his appeal.

The 2004 post-conviction hearing was not without its own share of drama. After the court ruled against Sutton’s bid for post conviction relief, his girlfriend at the time of the murder was arrested on the courthouse steps for allegedly trying to smuggle hacksaw blades to the convicted killer in jail through the mail. She was later cleared of the charges when it turned out to be a prank promulgated by the couple’s mutual friend.