An Iowa inmate whose conviction for killing an Independence police officer sparked a call for an end to the death penalty has died.
The Iowa Department of Corrections says 84-year-old Warren Nutter died from natural causes Wednesday in hospice at the Iowa State Penitentiary.
The current Independence police chief, David Niedert, says Nutter killed Independence police officer Harold Pearce at the courthouse on January 5th of 1956 while trying to escape.
He says Nutter and two other boys and two girls were taken to the courthouse after a short chase. Nutter got out and got a shotgun from their car and came back in and shot officer Pearce.
Nutter was from Freeport, Illinois and the case got national attention because of his age. Nutter was saved from hanging when the governor commuted his sentence from death to life in prison in 1957.
Chief Niedert says it’s important to remember the officer, not Nutter. “Mister Nutter had become more famous or infamous I guess due to some online documentary shows about the state of Iowa prison system that had aired. He was profiled on that as one of the inmates. Obviously, he was paying for his crimes as the court prescribed — but we would like to remember officer Pearce as the one who gave his life in service to the city of Independence,” Niedert says. Pearce was 52 when he was killed.
Niedert started his career in the Buchanan County courthouse where Pearce was killed and says his superiors told him of the story. “It was always a cautionary tale to a young patrolman back in that time to always be on guard — to stay safe at all times. That was why it was passed down to me by my sergeants and above at that time,” Niedert says. He says the recent deaths of state troopers in the area are another reminder. “It just shows us as time goes on the job stays just as dangerous as it was,” Niedert says. Niedert says there is a plaque remembering officer Pearce at the police department.
The Iowa Department of Corrections shows Nutter began serving his sentence in February of 1956 — and had been the longest surviving prisoner in the system. His story was part of the drive behind ending the death penalty in Iowa, which happened 9 years later.
Nutter was interviewed in the documentary “The Fort” which chronicled the history of the original Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison — which was closed after 177 years when the new facility opened.