Olen Edward Hutchison
A Call for Clemency: Equal Justice for Hutch
Olen Edward Hutchison, known as “Hutch,” had no prior criminal history but was convicted in 1990 for the 1988 death of Hugh Huddleston, a non-swimmer, who drowned during a fishing trip in Norris Lake in Campbell County after he was pushed from a pontoon boat.
The prosecutor made Hutch out to be the mastermind of a seven man conspiracy to collect on Huddleston’s life insurance policies and estate proceeds. Three of the men in the conspiracy were on the boat with the victim on the evening of the murder, but the state admits that Hutch was not one of them.
One of the men who was on the boat that night, Ricky Miller, accused Hutch of being involved in the scheme to kill Huddleston. At the time of this accusation, Miller was under indictment for the killing. The victim had borrowed money from Hutch to start a business, and, as collateral, had taken out a life insurance policy naming Hutch as the beneficiary. Miller had a prior criminal history of burglary, grand larceny, selling drugs and 12 juvenile charges, yet he became the state’s chief witness against Hutch.
Two of the seven men, Miller, and Charles Gaylor, had known the victim since they were teenagers. Huddleston was close with Gaylor and maintained a sexual relationship with him until his death. When Gaylor was 19 years old, Huddleston made him the beneficiary of a life insurance policy that he had through his employer. In his will, Huddleston left everything to Gaylor. Gaylor and Miller used Gaylor’s influence and control over Huddleston and long engaged in a pattern of abuse and extortion for money and goods from him. They moved in with Huddleston and used his car as their own and appeared at his workplace on paydays to get money from him. Eventually, Huddleston spent all the money he had on Gaylor and Miller. His trailer was repossessed and he had to move into his mother’s house. When Galyor and Miller could no longer count on Huddleston to support them, they began to plot to kill him.
Gaylor’s girlfriend, who was living with Gaylor at the victim’s house, stated in an interview with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that prior to the murder, Gaylor had discussed with several “other boys” (none of whom were Hutch) that if he killed Huddleston, “he would get everything Huddleston had.”
On August 14, 1988, Huddleston rented a pontoon boat for a night fishing trip arranged by Gaylor, though Gaylor never boarded the boat. Miller and Huddleston were on the boat and were approached by two men in another boat- Wilbur Hatmaker and Johnny Rollyson. Miller said the men were his friends and invited them to board the pontoon boat. Miller left shortly after that to supposedly go to the marina for food and bait. Hatmaker admitted he pushed Huddleston into the water.
Rollyson and Phillip Varnadore, another co-defendant who knew Rollyson and Hatmaker as well as Hutch, are today free men. Hatmaker and Gaylor are soon to be eligible for parole. After testifying against Hutch, Miller spent two years in a county jail and has been free ever since.
Hutch was the only person who received the death sentence. He was also the only one to be tried jointly with Gaylor. Crucial information about the roles played by the other defendants in the crime was not turned over to Hutch’s attorneys until long after the trial. Hutch was also prevented from presenting evidence establishing the validity of his loan to the victim and that his intent was to only collect the amount of the promissory note signed by the victim. Additionally, Hutch’s attorneys were inexperienced in trying death penalty cases. One of his attorneys later admitted, “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Despite these injustices, Hutch is at the end of his appeals and could be given an execution date at any time. To learn more about Hutch and his case, please visit this website. To sign the petition urging Governor Haslam to commute his sentence, click here.