Saturday 18 January 2020

'I came down and realised what was really going on' - Man held over murders of five friends in Alabama blames massacre on drugs

Charged with five murders: Derrick Dearman
Charged with five murders: Derrick Dearman

Jay Reeves

A man arrested over the murders of five friends in rural Alabama has blamed the massacre on drugs.

Derrick Dearman told reporters as he was being escorted to jail by deputies in Mobile that he was on methamphetamine when he went to the house, located at the bottom of a dead-end dirt road.

"Drugs (were) making me think things that's not really there," said the 27-year-old from Mississippi, hanging his head, and dressed in a bright yellow prison uniform and wearing shackles.

After the killings, authorities said, Dearman abducted his estranged girlfriend Laneta Lester, who had sought refuge at the house, and a child of two of the victims.

Dearman said he spared their lives because "I came down and realised what was really going on".

"(I) turned myself in because I was sober and knew what was the right thing to do," he said.

In videotaped comments broadcast on Mobile-area television, Dearman expressed his love for Ms Lester and apologised "to all the family members".

Saying all the victims were friends, he added: "Don't do drugs."

He said he does not deserve to live.

A man who said his family provided a home for Dearman and Ms Lester earlier this year near Leakesville, Mississippi, said Dearman was often on methamphetamine and physically abused Ms Lester during walks in the woods in rural south-east Mississippi.

"He was taking her out there and beating the crap out of her," said Charlie Passarelli Jr, who said he had known Dearman for years. Mr Passarelli said he suspected Ms Lester was either buying or selling drugs before Dearman and Ms Lester moved out in late spring.

The killings left three men and two women dead, including a pregnant woman and her unborn child. A teenager who said she was related to all five victims by marriage or blood shook her head and fought back tears as she described her anguish over the massacre.

"They were really good people. They'd call and check on you, ask if you want to come down and eat," said Madison McDaniel, 17, who lives near the scene of the violence.

Relatives of the victims started an online fundraising campaign to help cover funeral expenses, and clerk Dawn Sullivan collected donations in a plastic jug on the counter at D&B Quick Stop, where the victims often stopped for snacks and drinks.

"It's a sad situation. It never should have gotten to that point," said Ms Sullivan, whose husband was related to one of the victims.

Dearman, of Leakesville, will be charged with six counts of capital murder, including one charge for the unborn child, Mobile County sheriff's spokeswoman Lori Myles said. Alabama court records do not indicate whether he has a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

The dead were identified as Shannon Melissa Randall, 35, Joseph Adam Turner, 26, Justin Kaleb Reed, 23, Chelsea Marie Reed, 22, and Robert Lee Brown, 26, Ms Myles said.

Mr Turner was Ms Lester's brother and had let her stay at the house, which all the victims shared, Madison said. Mr Turner and Ms Randall were married.

"I'd always get on my horse and ride down there bareback," Madison said. Her step-aunt Ms Randall would say "Be careful because you're already got a hurt knee." "I'd say 'OK, Shan-Shan' - That's what I called her."

Mr Brown was Ms Randall's brother, Madison said, and Ms Reed was Ms Randall's niece. Ms Reed was pregnant with husband Justin Reed's child, said the teenager.

About 1am on Saturday, someone inside the home called 911 and reported that Dearman was on the property, authorities said in a statement. Citronelle police came to the house, but Dearman had left before officers arrived, sheriff's officials said.

Before daylight on Saturday, Dearman returned to the home and attacked the victims while they were sleeping, the sheriff's department said. Authorities said at least one gun and other, unspecified weapons were used.

After the killings, Dearman forced Ms Lester and a three-month-old identified by relatives as the child of Ms Randall and Mr Turner into a vehicle, and they drove to Dearman's father's house in Mississippi. Dearman released Ms Lester and the infant and turned himself in, authorities said.

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