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Popcorn Sutton

How Did Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton Avoid Going to Federal Prison?

Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was a moonshiner and bootlegger from the Appalachian region of the United States. He was born in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. He grew up, lived, and died in rural areas surrounding Maggie Valley and Cocke County, Tennessee. Being a lawbreaker, you might be wondering what did he do to avoid going to federal prison?

After being convicted, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton chose to kill himself than report to federal prison. He had his gravestone prepared years in advance and placed it near his front porch while his coffin was kept in his living room. It read; “Popcorn Said Fuck You.”

Marvin Sutton’s Career in Moonshining and His Rise To Fame

Marvin Sutton said he considered moonshine production a legitimate part of his heritage, as he was a Scottish-Irish American and descended from a long line of moonshiners.

He was known as Popcorn after his frustrated attack on a popcorn vending machine with a pool cue. He had been in trouble with the law several times but had avoided prison sentences. He was then convicted in 1974 of selling untaxed liquor and on drugs charges in 1981 and 1985. 

Sutton eventually self-published Me and My Likker, a self-published autobiography and guide on moonshine manufacturing. He began selling copies of the book right out of his junk shop in Maggie Valley in 1999. The New York Times later dubbed it a rambling, vulgar, and often humorous narrative of his life in the trade.

In 2007, firefighters discovered 650 gallons of untaxed alcohol on Sutton’s farm in Parrottsville after a fire, for which he was convicted and put back on probation by Cocke County officials. Sutton told an undercover federal officer in March 2008 that he had 500 gallons of moonshine in Tennessee and another 400 gallons in Maggie Valley that he was ready to sell prompting an ATF raid on his property headed by Jim Cavanaugh of the Waco siege fame.

Sutton was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison in January 2009 for illegally distilling spirits and possessing a firearm, a 0.38-caliber handgun. He still got convicted, even though he had hired a public defender and pleaded guilty.

Sutton was 62 at the time and had been diagnosed with cancer. He was asked to serve his sentence under house arrest. The judge noted that he was still under probation in Tennessee at the federal raid. He had considered a harsher punishment of 24 months but decided on 18 months after considering Sutton’s age and medical condition. (Source: The Wall Street Journal

Marvin Sutton’s Death and Memorial Services

On March 16, 2009, Sutton committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. This was apparently to avoid a federal prison sentence set to begin a few days later. Pam, whom he had married around two years before his death, returned home from errands to find her husband in his green Ford Fairmont, which was still running at the back of their Parrottsville, Tennessee, property.

He told his daughter ahead of time that he would rather die by suicide than go to jail and that he had the strength to die the way he lived: according to his wishes and no one else’s.
Sutton’s grave was marked with a traditional marker that read Marvin Popcorn Sutton / Ex-Moonshiner / October 5, 1946 / March 16, 2009. He had also prepared a footstone for his gravesite in advance, kept it by his front porch for years, and kept his casket ready in his living room. Popcorn Said Fuck You, reads the epitaph on his gravestone. (Source: Mother Jones)

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