The Murder of Sydney Sutherland
On August 19, 2020, Sydney Sutherland, 24, was abducted, raped, and murdered while jogging near her Jackson County, Arkansas home. A local farmer, Quake Lewellyn, confessed to hitting her with his pickup, abusing her corpse, before burying her in a rice field.
Sydney was born on September 18, 1995, in Arkansas. Her parents were Dion and Maggy Sutherland. Sydney has been described as a beautiful, energetic mother who resided with her boyfriend, Alex Nicholson, in Grubbs, Arkansas. She graduated from Tuckerman High School in 2014. Sydney attended Arkansas State University at Newport and earned her LPN license in July 2018. She worked as a registered nurse at Unity Health Harris Medical Center in Newport, AR medical center. Sutherland was extremely close to her family; her nieces had given her the nickname “Aunt Sassy”. She was also a member of the Grubbs Church of Christ. Her family described her as a woman with a “kind heart and loving spirit” who loved to read, exercise, and play with her dogs.
Sydney Sutherland Disappearance
On August 19, 2020, at approximately 7:00 p.m., a missing person’s report was filed with the Jackson County Arkansas Sheriff’s Department. The report stated that Sydney Sutherland had gone for a run that afternoon and had not yet returned. Her home’s surveillance camera recorded her as she left her driveway. Sutherland’s family stated that running and exercising were part of her everyday routine. Investigators immediately launched an extensive search. The following morning, hundreds of members of the local and outlying community joined law enforcement in the search efforts. The description of Sutherland at the time of her disappearance was a blonde Caucasian female, approximately 5’3”-5′ 4”, wearing a white athletic top and black shorts with running shoes.
Sydney Sutherland Investigation
On the afternoon of August 20, 2020, Sutherland’s cell phone was found 1.3 miles from her residence, in a field along Jackson County Road 41. Around the same time, various witness accounts, including local farmers, residents, and a delivery driver, stated that they had seen Sutherland running along the same road on that afternoon. Police interviewed many local residents hoping to learn any additional details. One farmer, Quake Lewellyn, stated that he had driven by Sutherland but couldn’t offer any further details. It was his behavior as he joined the search party efforts on the morning of August 20 that would set off alarm bells with Sutherland’s mother, Maggy Sutherland.
When investigators looked closer at the movement of Quake Lewellyn via his cell phone GPS location, they discovered his cell phone pinged in the same area of where Sutherland’s cell phone had discovered. When investigators looked even closer at Lewellyn’s GPS movements, they determined Lewellyn to be a person of interest and that his last location warranted a closer look. That location had been 2.36 miles away from where Sutherland’s phone had been located.
The body of Sydney Sutherland was discovered the next day on August 21, 2020. It was discovered within a few yards of Lewellyn’s GPS location, buried in a shallow grave in a rice field.
The medical examiner ruled Sydney Sutherland’s cause of death as multiple blunt force injuries, which was consistent with being struck by a vehicle. Sydney Sutherland’s death was determined to be a homicide.
Quake Lewellyn, 28, was a member of a local, well respected farming family. He had grown up in the rural farming area of Jackson County with his mother and stepfather, who had formally adopted him during his high school years. The Lewellyns’ had created a loving and supportive household. Quake Lewellyn had graduated from Tuckerman High School, the same high school the victim had graduated from. In this tight knit community, everyone knew everyone and Lewellyn knew Sutherland. At 23, Lewellyn moved into his first home. At 25, he married a local woman named Gracie, who was a mother to three children from a previous relationship. Lewellyn had stated to investigators that he had moved his family back to his parents’ property in an effort to save money so that they could build their own home.
Arrest and Conviction of Quake Lewellyn
During the same day, while Sutherland’s body was being discovered, the Lewellyn family strongly encouraged Quake Lewellyn to tell the entire truth regarding any details that he might have known concerning Sutherland’s death. Investigators interviewed a Lewellyn after they read him his Miranda rights, concerning the series of events. Lewellyn stated he had been out checking the rice fields and wells that day. He had driven past Sutherland on Jackson County Road 41. He had turned around and as he approached her, he struck her accidentally, stating that the dust from the road must not have settled. Lewellyn explained he got out of his vehicle and asked Sutherland if she was ok. When she did not answer, he said that he believed she was dead. Lewellyn believed he would be in trouble for hitting her, so he put her in the bed of his pickup to hide her body. Lewellyn then drove to his original destination, which was a rice field. When he arrived at the remote field, he explained that he had got out of his pickup, positioned Sutherland on the edge of the tailgate, removed her shorts and “messed with her”. Lewellyn dug a hole in the ground with a shovel that he had in his pickup and buried Sutherland.
When investigators asked him why he had chosen the rice field, Lewellyn stated it had been his original destination. He stated, “That was just where I was and where I was going to begin with.”
He explained that when he was finished burying Sutherland, he continued on with his work day, until between 5:00 pm – 6:00 p.m. He went home, had dinner, and went to bed. Lewellyn said that he just tried to forget about it. His line of thinking extended into the next day when went to work, pretending like it was any other day. That following morning, he joined the search party with hundreds of other local volunteers and emergency service personnel that were searching for Sydney Sutherland.
Quake Lewellyn was arrested for kidnapping, rape, capital murder, and abuse of a corpse on August 21, 2020. His first appearance in court was August 24, 2020.
Quake Lewellyn’s Mental Competency
On December 24, 2020, the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Arkansas, Criminal Division, ordered an evaluation of competency to stand trial for Quake Lewellyn. On January 7, 2021, a psychologist performed a mental status examination on Lewellyn at the Arkansas State Hospital. Lacey Willett, Psy.D. conducted the in-person interview.
“It is my opinion that at the time of the alleged conduct, Mr. Lewellyn did not manifest symptoms of a mental disease or mental defect.” The official report stated that Lewellyn denied being under the influence of any alcohol or substances (prescribed or illegal) at the time that he caused Sutherland’s death.
On October 1, 2021, Quake Lewellyn pleaded guilty to the rape and murder of Sydney Sutherland. Prosecutors dropped the charges of kidnapping and abuse of a corpse when they accepted his plea of guilty. By waving his right to a jury trial, it allowed him to avoid being sentenced to death. It also spared the Sutherland family from hearing testimony of the details which is why the Sutherland’s accepted the plea. Lewellyn is serving his life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Quake Lewellyn’s wife, Gracie, filed for divorce on August 26, 2020, just a few days after his arrest. She then filed a complaint for an amended divorce on September 4, 2020. Her divorce was granted with her maiden name restored. It has been reported that she and her children continue to navigate through the healing process of what Lewellyn did to their family.
Sydney Sutherland was laid to rest at Greenhaw Cemetery. Arkansas State University at Newport created a scholarship in her honor called the Sydney Sutherland Memorial Scholarship, applicable to students pursuing the healthcare field. ASU made the following public statement: “Sydney Sutherland made an impact on everyone she met. She shined in the classroom, and ASU-Newport is privileged to be a small part of her amazing life. Sydney devoted her life to helping others and that legacy will continue with the Sydney Sutherland Memorial Scholarship.”
“Finish Sydney’s Run Celebration of Life 5K in Honor of Sydney Claire Sutherland” was organized in Newport, AR. The 3rd annual event took place on September 10, 2022. You can find out additional information on this event by clicking here.