NBC’s ‘Dateline: Blind Justice’ chronicles how Susan Sutton was murdered inside her home in Coral Gables, Florida, in August 2004. Her husband, John Sutton, narrowly survived the assassination attempt. The episode features interviews of investigators probing the case and John and his daughter as they piece together the events that led to the heinous crime. If you’re interested in finding out what happened, including the perpetrators’ identity, we’ve you covered. Let’s dive in then, shall we?
How Did Susan Sutton Die?
Susan Joan Marier Sutton was born to Lester J. Marier and Rose A. Marier in Pittsburgh in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on August 20, 1947. Her adoptive daughter, Melissa Sutton, described her mother as “intelligent” and “confident.” She added, “Susan was the kind of person who’s in their 40s but wants to take violin classes, calculus classes because she just wants to be better.” According to her loved ones, Susan Sutton wanted to be a great mother more than anything.
She was the head nurse of a surgical intensive care unit in Florida but readily gave up her career after she and her husband, John Sutton, adopted their first child, Christopher, in the late 70s. Susan’s sister, Mary Marier, said, “That was the happiest day of her life. It was absolutely the happiest day of her life. I heard her on the telephone. I could hear her screaming from Florida … how happy and thrilled she was.” Almost seven years later, the couple adopted a daughter named Melissa. She loved the children unconditionally.
John Sutton was a formidable prison lawyer, and he and his partner, Teddy Monto, formed a very successful civil litigation firm. Due to their thriving business, John and Teddy made enemies along the way and occasionally received death threats. The Suttons lived an exemplary life, complete with a beautiful house and a 31-foot boat, in Coral Gables — an upscale enclave just south of Miami, Florida. According to the show, Susan worked as an office manager in John’s booming law firm.
On August 22, 2004, the Sutton family had a get-together to celebrate Susan’s belated birthday alongside their success at the law firm. Christopher, his girlfriend Juliet, and Teddy shared a birthday cake with John and Susan. Their law firm had secured one of their largest settlements — over $1 million — in early August. Miami-Dade Detective Rosanna Cordero said, “They had been very successful in their civil litigation business and had made some enemies along the way. In fact, John had had death threats against him.”
According to the show, Christopher, Juliette, and Teddy left late at night. John and Susan watched some TV after the party before retiring to bed in different bedrooms. Susan often slept in a separate bedroom because John snored. Little did they know about the perpetrator who broke into their residence, dressed in all black with a Glock 9 mm semi-automatic pistol. The point of entry appeared to be a sliding glass door. The episode described how the gunman first shot John before heading for Susan’s bedroom and shooting her six times.
The perpetrator then turned back to the master bedroom and emptied the gun into John. While Susan was assassinated in her bed. John Sutton, shot twice in the head, shockingly survived. Despite his massive head injuries, John somehow managed to call 911, and the emergency responders rushed him to a local trauma care center. When John woke up in intensive care, he was blind. He lamented, “The magnitude of my injury, the facial pain, and the loss of eyesight were just so huge.”
Who Killed Susan Sutton?
Detective Cordero hoped John, even with a serious head injury, could help her. He stated, “John remembered bits and pieces. He thought he remembered a figure at the door. He might be a black man or wearing all-black clothing… he was not sure.” The detective explained it was all “spotty memory” with the information he provided not being helpful at all. However, the investigators hoped they would have more luck with his law partner — Teddy Montoto. He told them he was on the phone with Susan when he heard gunfire.
According to police reports, Teddy reached the scene within minutes of the authorities’ arrival. The police were suspicious of his late-night call with Susan and became more when they learned he was a marksman, and he’d been shooting a gun earlier that day. Detective Cordero said, “He was a competitive shooter. That’s something that he did as a hobby. That raised our eyebrows.” The investigators immediately sent his gun in for ballistic testing and pushed him for more information about his late-night phone call with Susan.
Teddy failed a polygraph test and eventually admitted he was having a sexual relationship with Susan. Detective Cordero said, “He did, in fact, confess to having a sexual relationship with Susan.” However, he was clear as a suspect after the ballistic test came negative, and he was able to provide a strong alibi. The police began looking into Suttons’ eldest adoptive child Christopher after one of John’s friends turned them toward him. They soon started hearing alarming stories about Christopher.
Lead Detective Larry Belyeu said, “He wanted his parents dead. He actually choked his mother one time, saying that he could kill her.” The Suttons had to send him away to a behavioral school in Samoa when he was 16 after he reportedly started getting into lots of trouble. John stated, “We were told that there was an oppositional defiant disorder or conduct defiant disorder. Those sorts of things.” Christopher was in and out of more than half a dozen schools.
Susan’s sister Mary recounted how Christopher got extremely angry whenever things did not go his way. She recalled, “Christopher had a rifle… it was not loaded. He pointed it at Susan and Melissa… and he told them it was loaded and he was going to shoot them.” As a teenager, he had also been found guilty of vandalizing a teacher’s home. Hence, the Suttons were forced to send him to Paradise Cove, an extremely disciplined boarding school in Samoa, despite Christopher’s ardent protests.
The police had a major breakthrough in March 2005 when a woman reported that she suspected her ex-boyfriend, Garrett Kopp, could be involved in Susan’s murder. The investigators discovered Garrett’s phone number in Christopher’s call records and found the two had spoken the night of the crime. They also learned Garrett had a gun charge for a Glock .9-mm pistol. The weapon had been impounded, and the detectives were sure it was the murder weapon.
The police brought Garrett in for questioning, and he confessed Christopher had recruited him to kill his parents as revenge for his time at Paradise Cove. He also alleged Christopher offered him a cut of the insurance payout. He was arrested on March 26, 2005, and found guilty of murder in July 2010. Garrett testified against him for a 30-year plea deal. John also testified against his adoptive son. Christopher was found guilty of attempted murder and murder in the first degree in July 2010 and sentenced to three life terms without a chance of parole.
Read More: Christopher Sutton: Where is Susan Sutton’s Son Now?