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‘I owe it to the victim’s family’: Ala. death row inmate who killed 5 in ax murder drops appeals

“I’ve decided to drop my appeals and have my sentence carried out… I was fairly tried and convicted. I agreed with the court’s decision,” the inmate said


Derrick Dearman, who faces six counts of capital murder and two of first-degree kidnapping, is led into Metro Jail on Monday, Aug. 22, 2016. Dearman is accused of killing five people, including a pregnant woman, on Saturday in Citronelle. (Lawrence Specker/

Lawrence Specker/TNS

By Ivana Hrynkiw

CITRONELLE, Ala. — Derrick Dearman is guilty. It’s a fact he admits openly, not shying behind how he killed five people with an ax and a gun eight years ago on a dark road in south Alabama.

It happened. He remembers it all.

And now, he said, he’s ready to face his punishment.

Dearman, who was sent to Alabama Death Row in 2018 for the brutal slayings of the family members of his then-girlfriend in Citronelle in 2016, said he fired his attorney on Thursday. He wants to stop all appeals of his conviction and death sentence, he said.

“I am guilty, plain and simple,” he said in a phone interview with

“Everybody’s trying to talk me out of it,” he said. “But, I feel in my heart this is the right thing to do.”

Dearman’s attorneys from the Equal Justice Initiative didn’t respond to comment for this story.

“I’ve decided to drop my appeals and have my sentence carried out… I was fairly tried and convicted. I agreed with the court’s decision.”

“So now it’s time to try to do what’s right by the victims and their families to try to give them the closure and justice they deserve.”

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office has not yet filed a request to the Alabama Supreme Court to set an execution date for Dearman.

‘Whether I was in my right mind or not, innocent lives were lost and the crime was committed.’

The killings happened in the early-morning hours of Aug. 20, 2016. Dearman was dating a woman at the time whose brother, Joseph Adam Turner, owned a home in a remote area of Mobile County near Citronelle.

According to court records, Dearman was abusive to his girlfriend, and the day before the murders, Turner picked her up and brought her to his home. Dearman showed up multiple times to the Citronelle home that night, but no one would allow Dearman inside the house.

Early the next morning, Dearman returned. Court records state that he picked up an ax from the yard, broke into the home and attacked.

The victims were Turner, 26; Robert Lee Brown, 26; Chelsea Marie Reed, 22; Justin Kaleb Reed, 23; and Shannon Melissa Randall, 35. Chelsea Reed was pregnant with her and Justin Reed’s first child. Turner and Randall had a 3-month-old son in the bed with them when they were attacked, but he was unharmed.

After attacking his victims with an ax and then fatally shooting them, Dearman forced his unharmed girlfriend into a car, along with the 3-month-old boy, and drove them to Mississippi.

Dearman turned himself into authorities the following day. The girlfriend and baby returned to south Alabama unharmed.

Dearman’s now-fired attorney argued in court records he was severely mentally ill at the time of the crime, and Dearman said that his mind wasn’t right at the time. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what happened.

“I remember every bit of it,” Dearman said through the fuzzy audio at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. It’s the prison where the majority of Alabama Death Row inmates are housed, and the only prison in the state with an execution chamber.

“And it was like someone else had the steering wheel. It was like being at the movie theater or watching a movie and you want to turn your head or close your eyes because you didn’t want to see that part or that scene because it was that scary or horrible and not being able to. It’s like something else had the wheel.”

He was on drugs at the time of the slaying, calling himself “strung out” and “mentally unstable” from his drug use.

“If I was sober, that would have never happened.”

Dearman, now 36, said he hopes his acceptance of the death penalty will help those still affected by his crimes.

“Now I owe it to the victims’ family to try and make sure they get the closure, the justice that they deserve because whether I was, what’s the word, in my right mind because of drugs, any other mental problems made worse by drugs, the fact remains that they were innocent people that lost their lives and didn’t deserve that. I can’t go back and change it and make it right, but what I can do is try to do the right thing by the victims and their families.”

When asked if drugs were the root cause of the murders, this is what Dearman said from his prison cell on death row:

“Well, for something like this, this horrible, to happen, it takes a lot of different factors over a long period of time to come together at the right moment, time and place for a person for something like that to happen. Yes, my drug use over the years progressively got worse so my mind got further and further gone to where I barely remembered how to spell my name sometimes. That and emotional stress of not being able to provide for myself or my family and it’s just a lot of different factors.”

He added, “Whether I was in my right mind or not, innocent lives were lost and the crime was committed.”

‘Words have no weight in a situation like this’

Dearman pleaded guilty to the murders and, in 2018, a jury unanimously recommended the death penalty. Earlier this year, the Alabama Supreme Court declined to review Dearman’s case, upholding his direct appeal of his convictions and sentence.

But his lawyers from EJI in August 2020 had already filed a separate appeal — one focusing on claims he was mentally ill at the time of the murders and had ineffective assistance of counsel.

Those are the lawyers he fired Thursday.

He said his attorney and his father tried to persuade him not to drop the appeals, but it didn’t matter. “I knew in my heart I was always going to make this decision,” Dearman told

Dearman stressed that he liked his attorneys and didn’t have any issues with EJI’s representation. He just decided he wanted to accept his punishment.

“It’s not something that I’ve recently just been thinking on and decided, you know, come to the decision on.”

He said he only agreed to let EJI represent him during the appeal process because “that was my family’s right to try to fight for my life.”

“That’s the only reason that I even began the appeal process. But after six years, they’ve had a chance to do so,” Dearman said.

According to a court filing by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office in 2020, Dearman had made claims about not wanting to appeal his convictions and sentence since it was first handed down in 2018.

Dearman was also emphatic when asked if anyone encouraged him to give up his appeals. “No one whatsoever has tried to influence me, guide me, coerce me. This is my own decision.”

‘Nobody wants to die’

Dearman thinks he should die. But he doesn’t necessarily want it to be anytime soon.

“I mean, who wants to say, you know what, just come on and kill me? Nobody wants to die.”

He also said he believes some of the men on Alabama Death Row are innocent, and he doesn’t think the death penalty should be widely used. He made it clear that his decision doesn’t mean he supports executions.

Earlier this week, Dearman said he mailed letters explaining his decision to drop his appeal to Gov. Kay Ivey , Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall , the judge on his case and others. He is hoping he’ll have at least another year before the state seeks an execution date and doesn’t want people to think he is trying to “commit suicide legally.”

He read the letter. Part of what he wrote to the state officials was delivering justice to the surviving victims and their families.

“Now it’s time to give the victims and their families what they deserve, justice for their loved ones and themselves,” he wrote.”It is not right in my opinion, going on to continue to delay the justice they deserve. Not only that, but is a waste of the court’s time, resources and taxpayers’ dollars to continue to appeal my sentence when I’m guilty and believe I was fairly sentenced.”

When asked if he thought he deserved the death penalty, he struggled to answer.

“No, in one sense. But in my heart, that is the right thing and the only punishment… I know that me being executed, it’s not going to fix things for the victims’ family. It’s not going to bring their loved ones back. It’s the only thing that I could ever do or give to show that... I don’t want to use the words I’m sorry… It’s the only way for not only them, but my family and anybody else witnessing that, that this person is truly remorseful and regrets actions, crimes he’s committed.”

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