Leakesville native found guilty of mass killing near Citronelle
Editor’s Note: The following was produced with permission from reports by reporter Mark R. Kent of the Call-News newspaper in Citronelle. Readers are advised that it contains disturbing details from testimony.
From Staff and Special Reports
A Mobile County jury has recommended a Greene County man be sentenced to death for one of Alabama’s most gruesome mass murders.
It took a Mobile County jury 65 minutes to find Leakesville resident Derrick Dearman guilty of capital murder last Thursday and recommended he be sentenced to die by lethal injection.
The sentence came after a week of testimony in Mobile County Circuit Judge Rick Stout’s courtroom. Stout will formally sentence Dearman on Oct. 12.
Dearman, now 30, acted as his own attorney during the four days of testimony and deliberation. Earlier this month, Dearman entered pleas of guilty to ten counts of capital murder. Despite his admittance of guilt in the killing of five people who had once considered him to have been a friend, Alabama law required the case to go to trial and be presented in full detail because of the death penalty consideration. He showed little emotion when the jury’s decision was read aloud.
“Death penalty cases are always difficult, but we believe the jury’s verdict was the appropriate verdict,” Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich said. “What the defendant did was barbaric, it was unconscionable, and what made it more unconscionable is that he knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted to do it.”
“And then he came in here and during the entire trial, he never showed any emotion.”
The actions Dearman is likely to pay for with his life occurred over two years ago in the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 20, 2016. That is when Dearman admits forcing his way into a home west of Citronelle on Jim Platt Road. After making his way inside, Dearman went on an unspeakably savage rampage. By the time he left the house, there were five people dead after Dearman attacked them repeatedly with an ax before using a handgun and shotgun, belonging to the victims, to shoot them in an effort to confirm their deaths.
Victims in the case included Robert Lee Brown, Joseph Adam Turner, Shannon Melissa Randall, Justin Kaleb Reed and Chelsea Marie Reed, who was pregnant at the time.
The only adult to survive the deadly event was Dearman’s off-again, on-again girlfriend, Laneta Lester, who was staying at the home as Turner was Lester’s brother. Turner and Randall’s 3-month-old son was also in the house as the killings unfolded but was spared from the attacks.
During testimony, Lester told of grabbing the child during Dearman’s rampage in an effort to protect the infant from the attacks. Dearman reportedly spared the lives of Lester and the infant but forced them to leave the scene with him in a vehicle belonging to one of the victims.
Lester testified that Dearman drove them around southeast Mississippi for hours before arriving at the home of Dearman’s father in Leakesville. Lester said while the father was making an effort to convince Dearman to turn himself in, she was able to drive away from the house and make her way back to Citronelle to report the crime. Dearman turned himself in to authorities at the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.
Dr. Staci Turner of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, who performed autopsies on three of the victims and certified the autopsies of the other two, testified that all five of the victims were struck repeatedly, mostly in the head and face, with the ax Dearman confirmed he found outside the house before he burst inside.
Despite the fact all were badly wounded and in great pain, Turner testified, the victims continued to resist Dearman’s attacks including Justin Reed who tried to defend himself with a handgun. Dearman was able to wrestle the .45-caliber pistol away from Justin Reed and used it to fatally shoot him and three of the other victims.
According to testimony presented at trial, after Dearman fired all of the rounds in the handgun he picked up a 12-gauge shotgun he found in the home and used it to shoot Randall.
A particularly striking sight occurred on the trial’s first day when a Mobile County Sheriff’s Office video of the crime scene showed the victims dead in the home where they fell.
Brown, 26, lay dead by the front door, while the Reeds, both 23, lay in the second bedroom. In the master bedroom, Turner, 27, and Randall, 36, lay dead.
As the soundless, 11-minute film clip played, every eye in the court appeared to follow the slow walk the MCSO videographer took though the house — every set of eyes, that is, except Derrick Dearman, who looked away, head down, from a computer screen just to his left on the defendant’s table.
Throughout the trial, Dearman acted as his own attorney and freely admitted the murders were portrayed in the trial exactly as he committed them.
“Everything the district attorney has said is true,” Dearman said.
Lester testified that on the Wednesday before the killings, Dearman and Joseph Turner got together at Jim Platt Road to chop up an old trailer so that Dearman could sell it for scrap. That night, she said, Dearman spent the night with Lester at the home. The next day, Randall, who owned the home along with Turner, told Dearman he couldn’t stay, so Lester had Turner take her back to a home in Lucedale where they were staying at the time.
That night, she testified, Dearman beat her again, and she called her brother and asked him to take her back to the home on Jim Platt Road. That Friday night, Dearman made multiple appearances at the home but was continually asked to leave, she said.
Detective Nick King, then with the Citronelle Police Department, testified that he was dispatched to the home about 12:40 a.m. Aug. 20 for a trespassing complaint regarding Dearman.
Lester testified she felt a tap on her shoulder later that morning as Dearman reached in through a living room window to awaken her. She stated that Dearman begged for a cigarette and something to drink, when she told him no and that he needed to leave, she said Dearman became angry. Lester said she refused to go outside and went back to sleep, but was awakened again, this time by the sounds of gunfire.
During his defense presentation in the penalty phase, Dearman put both his parents, Sonja and Gary Dearman, on the stand.
“I take full responsibility for how he was raised,” Gary Dearman said during his testimony.
Several other family members and friends spoke, mostly about the defendant’s years growing up, and occasionally making reference to his getting involved with drugs.
Dearman himself also testified.
“The state presented evidence and there is nothing I can do to make it right,” he said during a brief statement. “It doesn’t mean I don’t try. I put my mitigation on behalf of my family.”