The latest appeal to reopen the premeditated first-degree murder case of death row inmate James Anderson Dellinger, 61, was dismissed Aug. 14 by Blount County Circuit Court Judge David R. Duggan.
After being convicted 16 years ago on Sept. 5, 1996, Dellinger and his accomplice, Gary Wayne Sutton, 48, were sentenced to death in the electric chair (now by lethal injection) by then Blount County Circuit Court Judge D. Kelly Thomas.
The were to have been electrocuted Nov. 9, 1996, but appeals have delayed the execution, with more appeals anticipated.
The Sevier County men were convicted of killing Tommy M. Griffin, 25, with a shotgun blast to the base of his skull on Feb. 21, 1992, in Walland, The body was found three days later at a spot beside Little River known as “the Blue Hole,” a popular swimming area at Walland.
Griffin’s sister, Connie Griffin Branham of Sevier County, was concerned about her brother and went looking for him on the day he was killed. She made contact with Dellinger and Sutton, but did not locate her brother.
Her body was found Feb. 28 inside her burned-out car in a remote section of Sevier County. She had been shot in the back of the head. A fire had been reported and at least one witness testified to hearing two gunshots in the Clear Fork area of Sevier County.
Both Dellinger and Sutton were charged by Sevier County authorities with her murder. The men were found guilty of first-degree murder in 1993 and sentenced to life in prison.
The fact that the pair had already been sentenced to life in another murder reportedly played a part in Blount County jury’s recommendation that they be given the death sentence.
The prosecutors in the 1996 case were now Blount County District Attorney General Mike Flynn and then Blount County Assistant District Attorney General Ed Bailey.
During the lengthy trial, the state presented evidence to show that Dellinger and Sutton burned Griffin’s trailer around 9 p.m. Feb. 21, killed him just before midnight, then killed his sister the next evening to hide the first murder.
Current Blount County Assistant District Attorney General Kenlyn Foster represented the prosecution in opposing the appeal to reopen the case.
No ‘new evidence’
Duggan ruled that the contention that Dellinger was intellectually disabled with an IQ below 70 had been raised in court previously. Since 1990 under state law, a person with an IQ of 70 or below cannot be sentenced to death.
“As previously indicated, the court previously determined that petitioner is not intellectually disabled that this the evidence referred to would not qualify as ‘new evidence’ and would be merely to contradict other evidence previously considered,” according to Duggan’s refusal to reopen his post-conviction proceedings.
Dr. Peter Young, an expert witness for the defense, earlier testified that Dellinger had an IQ in the 72 to 83 range.
Foster expects Dellinger to continue these appeal claims in higher courts.