Originally created 11/04/99

Area man gets life in prison



AIKEN -- A 92-year-old Bath woman broke down crying in the hallway of the Aiken County Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon, minutes after a judge sentenced a local man to life in prison plus 60 years for invading her home to rape and rob her.

The woman held her cane and tightly hugged Deputy Solicitor Lawrence Brown, thanking him and saying she hoped she never had to go through that again. It was the first time she had ever stepped foot in a courtroom in her long life, she said.

"Well, you couldn't have done any better," Mr. Brown said.

The woman was a key witness in the two-day trial, identifying neighbor Thomas Allen Hutto as the man who broke into her home July 16, 1998. She said she was asleep when she heard glass breaking at 5 a.m.

Mr. Hutto grabbed a rifle from her hands, sexually assaulted her and stole $300 of her Social Security money, the woman testified.

A jury of six men and six women took just 30 minutes Wednesday to return guilty verdicts against Mr. Hutto on charges of first-degree burglary, criminal sexual conduct and armed robbery.

Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein gave him the maximum sentence, quoting Aristotle as saying "the worst crimes are violent crimes to those that are most vulnerable." The judge said she was troubled that Mr. Hutto would victimize an elderly woman.

"Vulnerable people have a right to live in peace in their own home," Judge Goodstein said.

Police believe Mr. Hutto cut himself when he entered the home. Prosecutors used DNA evidence from the blood droplets to pinpoint him as the suspect.

In the trial's most damaging testimony, DNA analyst Robin Taylor said the blood matched the DNA makeup of Mr. Hutto. The probability of another Caucasian having the same makeup was 1 in 500 billion, she said.

"That's a very rare profile," said Ms. Taylor, a special agent with the State Law Enforcement Division.

In a surprise move, Mr. Hutto took the witness stand, but he never addressed his guilt or innocence. Assistant Public Defender David Mauldin simply questioned Mr. Hutto on his cooperation with sheriff's investigators once they had a warrant for his arrest. Mr. Hutto said he heard they were looking for him, so he went to Po-Boy's Convenience Store in Graniteville, called 911 and turned himself in.

Mr. Hutto, 30, has been in trouble with the law since he was 17, breaking into Village Flea Market in 1987 and carrying away a truckload of items. He received a light sentence but was returned to jail several times for violating probation.

He finally was paroled in June 1998 and lived with his sister in Bath, a house just across the street from the elderly victim. After the burglary and before his arrest, he had sex with a 15-year-old girl after providing her with alcohol and marijuana, for which he received a three-year jail sentence earlier this year.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.