Monday, June 01, 2009


Olen Hutchison: A case of severe sentencing disparity

Seven people were convicted of murdering Hugh Huddleston in 1988. Today, only Olen Hutchison faces the death penalty for that crime. Mr. Hutchison's death sentence is unjust when the major participants in the murder are either free or are eligible for parole.

Olen Hutchison and several codefendants were convicted of conspiring to murder Hugh Huddleston for the proceeds of two life insurance policies of which Hutchison and another codefendant were beneficiaries.

Two of the codefendants, Gaylor and Miller, had known Huddleston since they were teens. Evidence also showed that Gaylor and Miller would appear at Hugh Huddleston's place of employment on paydays to get money from Huddleston. According to Miller they received $100-$150 weekly from Huddleston, who even provided blank signed personal checks for Gaylor's use. When Gaylor was 19 years old Huddleston made Gaylor the beneficiary of a life insurance policy Huddleston had through his employer. In his will, Huddleston left everything to Gaylor.

Evidence and testimony from a number of witnesses showed that Miller and Gaylor regularly threatened, terrorized and abused Hugh Huddleston and that the night of the murder was not their first attempt to kill him. On one fishing trip, Miller said he was a short distance from Gaylor and Huddleston when he heard Huddleston cry out. Miller saw Huddleston (who could not swim) in the water. Gaylor said Huddleston slipped and fell in. Huddleston said he had been pushed into the water by Gaylor. Miller claimed that up to that point he thought Gaylor had been joking about killing Huddleston.

Eventually Huddleston spent all the money he could earn or borrow on Gaylor and Miller. Huddleston's trailer was repossessed, and he moved into his mother's house. When Gaylor and Miller could no longer count on receiving money from Huddleston, the plot to kill Huddleston took shape in earnest.

On August, 14, 1988, Huddleston rented a pontoon boat for a night fishing trip arranged by Gaylor. However, Gaylor never intended to be on the boat that night because, as Huddleston’s heir, he had the most to gain from Huddleston’s death. Suspicion would be too great. Miller and Huddleston were on the boat when Hatmaker and Rollyson approached in another boat. Miller said Hatmaker and Rollyson were friends of his and invited them to board the pontoon boat with Miller and Huddleston.

Miller left shortly thereafter in his small "jon" boat, which was being towed behind the pontoon boat. His supposed mission was to return to the marina for food and bait. Hugh Huddleston's body was recovered from the lake later that day.

It was Miller who accused Olen Hutchison of being involved in the scheme to kill Hugh Huddleston. At the time Miller accused Olen Hutchison, Miller was under indictment for Huddleston's murder. Huddleston had borrowed money from Hutchison and, as collateral, had taken out a life insurance policy naming Hutchison as the beneficiary. Miller had a prior criminal history of second-degree burglary, grand larceny, selling drugs and 12 juvenile charges, yet he became the state’s chief witness. Rollyson’s criminal history included theft and aggravated assault convictions.

DefendantPrior Criminal HistorySentence Received in the Death of Hugh HuddlestonPresent LocationTime Served
Charles Gaylor(none known)Life Sentence for First-Degree Murder + 10 years for conspiracy to take lifeSoutheast Tennessee State Correctional FacilityCurrently serving sentence, eligible for parole in 2020
Wilbur HatmakerSelling Cocaine and MarijuanaLife Sentence for First Degree MurderBrushy Mountain Correctional FacilityCurrently serving sentence, eligible for parole in 2019
Ricky MillerTwelve juvenile charges, Second Degree Burglary, Grand Larceny, Selling Drugs17 years in County Jail for Conspiracy to Commit First Degree MurderOneida, TNReleased 12/22/93 after serving two years in county jail
Johnny RollysonTheft, Aggravated Assault17 years in State Prison for Conspiracy to Commit First-Degree MurderClinton, TNReleased 3/10/98 after serving six years
Phillip VarnadoreCultivating Marijuana, Aggravated Assault, Possession of Drugs for Resale, Carrying Arms for Purpose of Going Armed, Selling Marijuana and Cocaine17 years in state prison for Solicitation to Commit First-Degree MurderKnoxville, TNReleased 8/12/98 after serving six years

Varnadore, another codefendant who knew Hutchison as well as Hatmaker and Rollyson, had a criminal background including aggravated assault, possession of drugs for resale, going armed, selling marijuana and cocaine, and cultivating marijuana.

Olen Hutchison, the man accused by Miller as being the mastermind of the scheme, had no criminal record. Olen Hutchison was not on the boat, was not at the marina, was not even in the same county.

Miller, Rollyson and Varnadore, despite their criminal backgrounds and their direct and admitted involvement in Hugh Huddleston’s killing, are today free men. Olen Hutchison has been facing execution since 1991 while others have been freed or will be eligible for parole.