HILL – Nearly 11 years after beating a man to death with a tent spike near the
set-up for Springfest in the Inlet parking lot in 1999, convicted killer Robert
Sutton, Jr., sentenced to life in prison for the crime, has affectively
petitioned the court for a post-conviction hearing this August that could lead
to a new trial if he successfully argues his case.
mid-April, Sutton filed a petition for post-conviction relief in Worcester County
Circuit Court, citing a laundry list of perceived problems with how his trial
was handled, including allegedly botched representation by his public defender,
whom he dismissed mid-way through the trial, to an alleged conspiracy by
prosecutors and the Ocean City Police detectives handling the investigation.
All in all, Sutton alleged in his petition for post-conviction relief everyone
involved from his defense attorney to the prosecutors to the detectives who
handled the case railroaded through his ultimate conviction and life sentence.
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.
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.
11 years later, Sutton has successfully petitioned the court for
post-conviction relief and will have the opportunity to argue the salient
points in the petition in hopes of securing a new trial. In the conclusion of
the petition, which Sutton prepared and submitted himself from jail in
Cumberland, admits guilt in the case, but argues his conviction on first-degree
murder charges should be overturned.
petitioner is guilty of no more than second-degree murder at the very most and
asks the court to accept such,” the jailhouse petition reads.
petition seeks a new trial based on several points including the handling of
his case by the public defender, despite the fact he dismissed the public
defender mid-way through the trial. Sutton argues in the petition the public
defender “never had his best interests at heart,” and that he “deliberately and
knowingly misrepresented, perjured, mislead, withheld and fraudulently
committed assistance to help in the conviction of the petitioner.”
petition, Sutton argues the public defender did not investigate the
accusations, did not question lab testing, did not argue the evidence obtained
from Sutton’s home in Pennsylvania was obtained on a bad warrant, did not argue
statements from the witnesses were obtained illegally, and did not argue for a
change of venue.
petition was not limited to claims against his defense. He also argues the
state’s attorney and the OCPD detectives assigned to the case “intentionally,
knowingly and deliberately falsified, fabricated and withheld evidence,
witnesses, etc.” to gain a conviction in the case. Finally, Sutton’s petition
alleges the trial judge allowed too much leeway for the prosecution in the
will be clear and evident after the petitioner’s argument that the public
defender and the prosecution team deliberately, knowingly and willingly
conspired together to obtain a conviction,” the petition reads.
or not Sutton is successful in gaining a new trial remains to be seen, but he
will get the chance to argue his claims. A post-conviction relief hearing has
been scheduled for Aug. 13 in Circuit Court in Snow Hill.
latest attempt is not the first by Sutton to gain a new trial. Shortly after
being sentenced to life in prison, he challenged the conviction in the state
Court of Special Appeals.
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
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.
Sutton petitioned the court for post conviction relief in 2004, 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.
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.