Tennessee inmate on death row dies of natural causes in prison

A Tennessee inmate on death row died of apparent natural causes Monday, authorities said.

James Dellinger, 71, was pronounced dead at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, the Tennessee Department of Correction said in a news release.

A medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death, the statement said.

Dellinger was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1992 shooting death of Tommy Griffin, 24, in Blount County. Dellinger was sentenced to death in 1996.

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A 71-year-old inmate died of natural causes Monday in a Tennessee prison. James Dellinger was convinced of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1996.

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In 2007, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Dellinger’s appeal. Dellinger claimed he had ineffective counsel.

According to court records, Griffin went drinking at a Maryville bar with Dellinger and Gary Wayne Sutton, who was also convicted in the killing. Griffin was arrested for public intoxication, but Dellinger and Sutton bailed him out later that night. Gunshots were heard a short time later along the Little River and Griffin’s body was found there three days later.

Dellinger and Sutton had previously been convicted in 1993 of murdering Griffin’s sister, Connie Branam, whose body was discovered in her burned vehicle.

Sutton had been scheduled to be executed on Oct. 6, but Gov. Bill Lee issued a reprieve in May.