Convicted Killer Taking Another Shot At New Trial Bid

SNOW HILL — Over 16 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, is attempting another shot at redemption.

Sutton appeared in Worcester County Circuit Court this month for a hearing on his bid for post-conviction relief including a possible retrial if successful. In roughly each of the last five years, Sutton has attempted to gain a post-conviction hearing scheduled before a Worcester County Circuit Court judge and each time the hearing has been postponed for one reason or another.

The latest post-conviction hearing was scheduled in Circuit Court, but the proceedings were postponed because the state was not able to coordinate the witnesses. Among other things, Sutton is claiming prosecutorial misconduct as a primary reason for seeking a new trial, which is somewhat ironic considering he dismissed his public defender at the close of the state’s case in the original trial and proceeded on as his own attorney.

State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby said the state prosecutors who handled the prosecution in the original trial were now in private practice and there was some difficulty in coordinating their schedules, which is why the post-conviction hearing was not held as scheduled. It will now likely be another 60 to 90 days before the post-conviction hearing is rescheduled.

“He’s alleging prosecutorial misconduct,” said Oglesby. “The bottom line is he is alleging his case was mishandled the first time around and he is seeking any and all remedies. From his perspective, the best case scenario for him would be a retrial.”

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 Sunfest celebration that year. Police that morning also discovered near the Lynch’s body 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 for the beating death of Lynch in the Inlet parking lot that night, but he later challenged the conviction in the state Court of Special Appeals.

Sutton’s appeal was based on a half a dozen 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 Circuit Court in 2004 denied Sutton’s bid for a new trial and stayed the original sentence, but the door was left open for future attempts.

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.

From the beginning, it has never been disputed that Sutton struck and killed Lynch with the tent stake in the Inlet parking lot back in April 1999, but it now appears the convicted killer is preparing to take another shot at reversing his conviction. He has continued to file for hearings on post-conviction relief at least five times since 2010, each time with a subtly different reason for the appeals. With this month’s hearing postponed, it will likely be some time in the fall before he gets another shot in front of a Circuit Court judge.