Death penalty

Alabama murderer gives up appeals and asks to be executed so that victims' families have ‘justice'

“Now it’s time for the victims and their families to get the justice they rightly deserve to start the closure,” Derrick Dearman, 36, said in a phone interview from prison.

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AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File

A convicted killer on death row in Alabama told NBC News he no longer wants to delay justice for the families of the five people he murdered eight years ago and is ready to pay the ultimate price for his crimes.

In his first-ever interview with a reporter, Derrick Dearman said he mailed nine letters earlier this week to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Attorney General Steve Marshall, as well as the judges and others involved in the horrific case, informing them he is dropping his appeals and wants to be executed.

Dearman, 36, said he is at peace with his decision.

“Now it’s time for the victims and their families to get the justice they rightly deserve to start the closure,” he said during a telephone interview from William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama.

Dearman said he has not yet told the victims’ kin of his decision, but he intends to write them letters as well.

“I have laid many nights thinking, what would I say to any of them if I ever had the chance, the opportunity to say something?” he said. “That’s part of the reason I’ve made my decision to have my sentence carried out. Words don’t have any weight in this situation. The only thing I would say is that everyone that was hurt by the actions to forgive me, not for myself, but for them. That way, they will free their heart up to be able to truly heal.”

Dearman made his announcement two months after the Alabama Supreme Court denied an application to appeal his sentence and upheld his six murder convictions. He was charged with six homicides because one of the victims, 22-year-old Chelsea Marie Reed, was five months pregnant.

Alabama has a fetal homicide law that applies to any stage of pregnancy.

Dearman, who is from Leakesville, Mississippi, said he went through the appeals process for the sake of his family — not for himself.

“They said, ‘Derrick just give us a few years in this appeal process,’” he said. “‘We deserve that, it’s our right as your family to fight for your life,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ That was almost six years ago, and I feel like I’ve given them the fair chance.”

NBC News has reached out for comment to Reed’s family and the families of Dearman’s other victims: Shannon Melissa Randall, 35; Robert Lee Brown, 26; Justin Kaleb Reed, 23; and Joseph Adam Turner, 26.

Dearman has already been forgiven by Brown’s father.

“I can’t bring my son back,” Robert F. Brown said in September 2016 at Dearman’s arraignment at circuit court in Mobile, Alabama. “I forgive this guy because he don’t know no better. I feel for his family.”

The tragic chain of events began on Aug. 20, 2016, when Dearman, armed with an ax and firearms, burst into a bungalow outside rural Citronelle, Alabama.

High on methamphetamine and enraged that his estranged girlfriend Laneta Lester had taken shelter in her brother’s home, Dearman attacked the victims while they were sleeping. Then he kidnapped Lester and Turner’s 3-month-old son, Darren, and fled to his father’s home across the border in Leakesville.

The first inkling that something horrible had happened on Jim Platt Road was when Lester and the infant, who had been released by Dearman, turned up at the Citronelle police station and told officers what happened.

Dearman said he surrendered to the Leakesville police when he had come down from his high and realized what he’d done.

“I am guilty plain and simple, I turned myself in and I pled guilty,” said Dearman. “Once I got moved over to county and spent a week down there, sleeping every day, my mind coming back to me a little bit more, little bit more, little bit more, I was just in shock. I couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of what had happened because those people were good people.”

Dearman, who struggled with addiction since he was a teenager, said the drugs turned him into a monster.

“Drugs turned me into a very unpredictable, unstable and violent person,” he said. “That’s not who I am. The person that committed these crimes and the person who I truly am is two different people.”

But, Dearman added, that was no excuse for what he did.

“It doesn’t change the fact that the crimes were committed,” he said.

Still, when he went before a judge, Dearman pleaded not guilty at first — for his family — to six counts of capital murder and two counts of kidnapping.

“They knew that I wasn’t in my right mind, they knew that the sober me would have never done those horrible things,” he said. “I wasn’t even going to litigate my conviction. But I allowed my family to get up there and plead the courts, you know for, not to seek the death penalty.”

Two weeks after the killings, the crime scene — the Turner house — burned down. But not before detectives collected the evidence they needed against Dearman.

Then in September 2018, Dearman fired his two court-appointed attorneys and pleaded guilty.

Under Alabama law, even a suspect who has pleaded guilty to capital murder must be tried by a jury.

And in October 2018, a jury convicted Dearman.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the protocols are in Alabama for a prisoner who wants to be put to death.

But Dearman already knows how he wants to die — and has opted for lethal injection. Currently, the state has scheduled an execution for Jamie Mills for May 30 and is seeking to execute a second inmate, Alan Miller, via nitrogen gas later this year. Miller, who survived a 2022 lethal injection attempt, filed a lawsuit this week to block the nitrogen execution, arguing the first execution under the new method caused cruel and prolonged suffering. Alabama performed the first-ever execution via nitrogen earlier this year on Kenneth Eugene Smith, who had also previously survived a lethal injection attempt.

“The execution ... I mean, does it scare me? Yes, and no,” Dearman said when asked about those failed executions. “On one side, you have, you know, worse complications, for whatever reason, you know, it’s very agonizing and painful. I mean, there is that chance, Alabama has been known to have trouble with their execution process.”

“Actually going through with it, I think about that least of all. My mind is so focused on trying to make sure to do the right thing,” he says.

Dearman has also already chosen a spiritual adviser — the Reverend Dr. Jeff Hood.

“Though I’m vehemently opposed to the state of Alabama having the right to kill him, Derrick Dearman is competent to make his own decisions and I’ll continue prayerfully standing beside him as he proceeds,” Hood said.

Dearman says his decision does not mean he agrees with the death penalty for the men he lives with in Holman.

“There’s guys in general population that committed way worse crimes than half the guys on death row,” he said. “There’s some guys here on death row, if you would let them go today, they would never commit a crime and be productive members of society.”

Dearman said dying is preferable to spending the rest of his life in Alabama’s brutal prison system. But that’s not why he is seeking to be executed.

“Am I doing this because I can’t live with myself? No,” he said. “I made this decision for different reasons. One of those reasons is so that all parties involved, not just the victims and their families but my family as well, can kind of get some closure and begin healing and moving forward.”

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